School Climate & Safety

Conference Draws Teachers Around Nonviolence Theme

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 29, 2003 2 min read
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Teachers at a recent peace forum here demonstrated one of the recurring themes of the meeting: Creating a culture of peace in the classroom doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding conflict.

About 135 teachers attended the Oct. 17 forum, “Teachers Building a Culture of Peace: Classroom Responses to War and Terrorism,” at American University. It was sponsored by the Alexandria, Va.-based Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

The teachers are among a small group of educators across the country who are committed to bringing lessons about peace and nonviolence to their classes. (“Peace Educators Struggle With War,” Oct. 24, 2001.)

The attendees included an educator from Washington looking for ways to talk with her students about a recent gang-related murder in their neighborhood. A teacher from Alexandria, Va., meanwhile, wanted to learn how to help students from Liberia cope with past war experiences.

“Facing Fear,” is available from the American Red Cross.

When an American Red Cross official presented a supplemental curriculum for K-12 students, called “Facing Fear: Helping Young People Deal With Terrorism and Tragic Events,” several teachers raised objections to the materials.

The challenges began after Laurie D. Fisher, a senior associate for the Washington-based Red Cross, distributed an activity sheet from “Facing Fear” that can be used for talking with high school students about war.

Among the discussion questions on the sheet are: “Is it all right to attack religious, cultural, or historical places?” and “Is it all right to force a prisoner of war to give information?”

‘Great Questions’

Elizabeth K. Kimvilakani, a project coordinator for Roosevelt Senior High School in Washington, rhetorically challenged Ms. Fisher. “Can we add to this [list]?” she asked. “Who are the manufacturers of weapons? What makes one party to throw stones while another has the latest model of tank truck?”

Others said the material did not question the need for war.

Ms. Fisher pointed out that the activity sheet was only a small piece of the curriculum. She also noted that “Facing Fear” was prepared after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but before the U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ms. Fisher didn’t say that the curriculum should have included a component for students to talk directly about peace. “That’s not the focus of the Red Cross,” she explained in an interview after the session. She added, however, that the teachers “were asking great questions.”

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