Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Bringing Pacifism to Schools: Children Must Be Educated in Nonviolence, `the Weapon of the Strong'. (Paths to Peace Education)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Bringing Pacifism to Schools: Children Must Be Educated in Nonviolence, `the Weapon of the Strong'. (Paths to Peace Education)

Article excerpt

Editor's note: Colman McCarthy, former columnist for The Washington Post, is a pioneer in the field of peace education. He has developed and taught courses on nonviolence at the high school and college level since 1982 and is the co-founder of the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington. The following is an excerpt from his latest book, I'd Rather Teach Peace (Orbis).

By rough estimate, I've had more than 5,000 students since that first high school class in 1982. I've felt blessed. With all of them, from the brainiest third-year law students on their way to six figure beginning salaries to 14-year-old illiterates locked up for hustling drugs, I emphasized one theme: Alternatives to violence exist and, if individuals and nations can organize themselves properly, nonviolent force is always stronger, more enduring and, assuredly, more moral than violent force.

Some students opened their minds to this immediately. They understood Gandhi: "Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong." They believed King: "The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence."

Other students have had doubts that I encouraged them to express. They did, repeatedly. Nonviolence and pacifism are beautiful theories and ideals, they said, but in the real world, where muggers and international despots lurk, let's keep our fists cocked and our bomb bays open.

All I asked of the realists was to think about life's two risks: Do you depend on violent force or nonviolent force to create peace? Not just peace in some vague "out there," but peace in our homes where physical beatings are the leading cause of injury among American women, or peace in the developing world where some 40,000 children die every day from preventable diseases, or peace in those parts of the world where more than 40,000 people die every month in some 59 wars or conflicts -- mostly the poor killing the poor -- or peace where the U.S. Congress gives $900 million a day to the Pentagon, which is nearly $11,000 a second and four times the Peace Corps budget for a year.

Literature of peace

At all schools, my course was based on the literature of peace -- the writings of past and current peacemakers. I created my own textbooks -- Solutions to Violence and Strength Through Peace -- that run deep with essays by Gandhi, Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, Gene Sharp, Jeannette Rankin, Joan Baez, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Sargent Shriver, Jane Addams, Carol Ascher, Helen Nearing and Daniel Berrigan, and ranged from nonviolent resistance to the Holocaust to animal rights. The book was published by the Center for Teaching Peace, a nonprofit my wife Mavourneen and I began in 1985. With generous foundation support, our work is to help schools at all levels offer courses on the methods, practitioners, effectiveness and history of nonviolent conflict resolution. In my classes, essays are read, discussed and debated. My goal was not to tell students what to think but how to think: gather as much information as possible about nonviolence, and then either embrace or reject it. I went with the thought of Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist who advised students in Mutual Aid: "Think about the kind of world you want to live and work in. What do you need to build that world? Demand that your teachers teach you that."

The students I've been with these 20 years are looking for a world where it becomes a little easier to love and a lot harder to hate, where learning nonviolence means that we dedicate our hearts, minds, time and money to a commitment that the force of love, the force of truth, the force of justice and the force or organized resistance to corrupt power is seen as sane, and the force of fists, guns, armies and bombs insane.

The other side

Over the years, I've had suggestions from other teachers to offer what they call "balance" in my courses, that I should give students "the other side." I'm never sure exactly what that means. …

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