Peace Education

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Peace education encompasses the key concepts of education and peace. While it is possible to define education as a process of systematic institutionalized transmission of knowledge and skills, as well as of basic values and norms that are accepted in a certain society, the concept of peace is less clearly defined. Many writers make an important distinction between positive and negative peace. Negative peace is defined as the absence of large-scale physical violencethe absence of the condition of war. Positive peace involves the development of a society in which, except for the absence of direct violence, there is no structural violence or social injustice. Accordingly, peace education could be defined as an interdisciplinary area of education whose goal is institutionalized and noninstitutionalized teaching about peace and for peace. Peace education aims to help students acquire skills for nonviolent conflict resolution and to reinforce these skills for active and responsible action in the society for the promotion of the values of peace. Therefore, unlike the concept of conflict resolution, which can be considered to be retroactivetrying to solve a conflict after it has already occurredpeace education has a more proactive approach. Its aim is to prevent a conflict in advance or rather to educate individuals and a society for a peaceful existence on the basis of nonviolence, tolerance, equality, respect for differences, and social justice.

The Development of Peace Education and Its Basic Principles

The understanding of the concept of peace has changed throughout history, and so has its role and importance in the educational system from the very beginnings of the institutionalized socialization of children. When discussing the evolution of peace education, however, there have been a few important points in history that defined its aims and actions. The end of World War I (19141918) brought powerful support for the need for international cooperation and understanding and helped instill a desire to include these ideas in educational systems. The League of Nations and a number of nongovernmental organizations worked together on these ideas, especially through the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, an organization that was the predecessor of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). World War II (19391945) ended with millions of victims and the frightening use of atomic weapons against Japan, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1946 UNESCO was founded as an umbrella institution of the United Nations, and it was charged with planning, developing, and implementing general changes in education according to the international politics of peace and security. The statute of this organization reinforced the principle of the role of education in the development of peace, and a framework was created for including and applying the principles of peace in the general world education systems. The cold war division of the world after World War II and the strategy of the balance of fear between the so-called West and East blocs redirected the peace efforts. The peace movement began concentrating on stopping the threat of nuclear war, halting the arms race, and encouraging disarmament. Somewhat parallel to this, the issues of environmental protection and development found their place in peace education programs. The contemporary sociopolitical environment (particularly the events in eastern Europe since the early 1990s, the fear of terrorism, and the increasing gap between developed and undeveloped countries) has created new challenges for the understanding of peace and for the development of the underlying principles of responsibility and security.

A 1996 book by Robin Burns and Robert Aspeslagh showed that the field and the themes that are included in peace education are diverse. The diversity is evident in theoretical approaches, underlying philosophies, basic methodology, and goals. Within the field of peace education, therefore, one can find a variety of issues, ranging from violence in schools to international security and cooperation, from the conflict between the developed world and the undeveloped world to peace as the ideal for the future, from the question of human rights to the teaching of sustainable development and environmental protection. A critic could say that the field is too wide and that peace education is full of people with good intentions but without a unique theoretical framework, firm methodology, and an evaluation of the outcomes of the practical efforts and programs of peace education. Some within the field would generally agree with this criticism. Nevertheless, the importance of accepting the specific situations in which programs for peace are being implemented and held should be emphasized. Owing to these specifics, difficulties emerge when one tries to define the unique approach, methodology, and evaluation of the efficiency of applied programs. The complex systems of society, the circumstances, and the context make the peace education field very active and diverse.

Peace Education Discrepancies: Individual, Group Conflict

In the active process of achieving positive peace, peace education is faced with a few basic discrepancies: discrepancy between the individual and the group, discrepancy between groups within one society or from different societies, and the discrepancy of conflict as an imbalance of different interests that need to be resolved without violence.

Discrepancies between individual and group. The modern liberal theory puts the individual's equality, values, and rights in the center of a successfully functioning society. This basic thesis is the beginning of the philosophy and practical protection of human rights. From the individual psychological point of view one thinks in terms of educating a complete person. In the educational system this does not mean transmitting only the facts, but it includes the complete social, emotional, and moral development of an individual; the development of a positive self-concept and positive self-esteem; and the acquisition of knowledge and skills to accept responsibility for one's own benefit as well as for the benefit of society. The development of a positive self-concept is the foundation for the development of sympathy for others and building trust, as well as the foundation for developing awareness of interconnectedness with others. In that sense a social individual is a starting point and a final target of peace education efforts.

Discrepancies between groups. People are by nature social beings, fulfilling their needs within society. Many social psychologists believe that there is a basic tendency in people to evaluate groups they belong to as more valuable than groups they do not belong to. This ingroup bias is the foundation of stereotypes, negative feelings toward outgroups, prejudices, and, finally, discrimination. In the psychological sense, the feeling of an individual that his or her group is discriminated against, or that he or she as an individual is discriminated against just for belonging to a particular group, leads to a sense of deep injustice and a desire to rectify the situation. Injustice and discrimination do not shape only the psychological world of an individual but also shape the collective world of the group that is discriminated againstshaping the group memory that is transmitted from generation to generation and that greatly influences the collective identity. Belonging to a minority group that is discriminated against could have a series of negative consequences on the psychological and social functioning of its members, for example, leading to lower academic achievement or negatively influencing the self-concept and self-esteem. Therefore, peace education is dealing with key elements of individual and group identity formed by historical and cultural heritage, balancing the values of both of these, and trying to teach people how to enjoy their own rights without endangering the rights of others, and especially how to advocate for the rights of others when such rights are threatened. This motivating element of defense and advocating for the rights of others is the foundation of shared responsibility for the process of building peace.

Conflict and its role in peace education. Conflict is a part of life, and its nature is neither good nor bad. On the interpersonal and intergroup level, conflict describes an imbalance or an existence of difference between the needs and interests of two sides. It becomes negative only when the answer to a conflict is aggression. It is possible, however, to resolve the difference positively, by recognizing the problem and recognizing one's own needs and interests and also acknowledging the needs of the opposing sides. In this way, constructive nonviolent conflict resolutions are possible. An important aspect of conflict is that it includes potential for change, and it is in this context that peace education addresses the issues of conflict and conflict resolution by teaching students how to take creative approaches to the conflict and how to find different possibilities for the conflict resolution. Thus students gain knowledge and skills that encourage personal growth and development, contribute to self-esteem and respect of others, and develop competence for a nonviolent approach to future conflict situations.

Peace Education in Schools

From the very beginnings of the development of systematic peace education, there has been discussion about whether it should be added as a separate program in the schools, or if the principles of peace education should be applied through the regular school subjects. The variety of approaches and attitudes on what peace education actually is leads to the introduction of a series of titles, such as multicultural training, education for democracy and human rights, and education for development. Many in the field, however, believe that the implementation of principles of peace education into the institutionalized educational system is a better approach, especially within the subjects encompassing the cultural heritage of the dominant society and the ethnic groups belonging to it. Consistent with this view, Aspeslagh in 1996 wrote about the need to internationalize national curriculum. For example, including within the curriculum the contributions of minority groups to literature, history, art, the general cultural heritage, and the development of the particular nation-state may significantly contribute to intercultural closeness and understanding.

The Principles and Theoretical Foundations of Peace Education Programs

Since the psychologist Gordon Allport formulated his well-known contact hypothesis in 1954, this theoretical framework became the most applicable principle for programs whose main goal is to change the relationships between groups in conflict. According to Allport's theory, for the intergroup contact to be successful and accomplish positive changes in attitudes and behavior, it must fulfill four basic conditions: the contact groups must be of equal status, the contact must be personal and manifold, the groups must depend on each other working for a superordinate goal, and there must be institutional support for the equality norm. The numerous re-search projects that tried to verify the predictions of the contact hypothesis provided contradictory results, raising serious doubts about the major cognitive, affective, and behavioral shifts that occur as a result of organized meetings between representatives of conflicting groups. Almost every new study added new conditions that must be fulfilled in order for the contact to be successful.

Even if there is a positive change in the attitude toward members of the outgroup in direct contact, there is a question of the generalization of the newly formed attitude to the other members of the outgroup. The key problem of peace education is not the interpersonal conflict but the collective conflict between groups, races, nations, or states. Therefore, the issue of transferring the positive attitudes toward members of other groupsattitudes achieved in safe environments such as classrooms, schools, workshops, and the liketo all members of the outgroup and all other outgroups remains the pivotal issue of peace education. Children learn about peace and the need for peace in safe protected environments and then return to a wider society where there is still injustice, asymmetry of power, a hierarchical structure, discrimination, and xenophobia. Therefore, each program for peace education must not only strengthen the capacity of an individual for critical thinking but also strengthen the individual's ability to resist the majority, if the majority is one that discriminates. As stated by Ervin Staub in 1999, for change to happen and spread there is a need for a minimum mass of people who share attitudes, a culture in which they can express those attitudes, and a society that accepts the attitudes.

Based on the contact hypothesis, a very successful technique was developed for improving the relations among groups, highly applicable as a general teaching and learning method. It is the cooperative learning technique in which a smaller group of students study in face-to-face interaction, cooperating to complete a common task. This technique was very successful both in lower and higher grades of elementary school, not only as a teaching method but also for creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom, reinforcing students relationships, and creating intergroup friendships.

On the other hand, based on the idea that adopting knowledge and developing skills is the basis for gaining positive attitudes and behavior, intercultural training programs were also developed. These basically involve a group of techniques that accept the primary notion that differences between cultures are what lead to misunderstandings and conflicts between groups. Such programs assume that information about the values, customs, and practices of the members of a different culture contributes to better understanding of others, thereby reducing prejudices, negative stereotypes, and tensions between people who belong to different cultures. Research has shown that ignorance about others plays a significant role in the development and perpetuation of prejudices. Educating students about both cultural similarities and differences is a significant factor in reducing prejudice.


Peace education is a diverse field that includes the theoretical, research, and practical activities of experts from many disciplines assembled in a number of professional and research associations. The best known among these is the International Peace Re-search Association, which was founded in 1964. The programs of peace education exist within the academic discipline of peace studies on many universities, especially in the United States. The dissemination of research results and theoretical approaches is ensured by the existence of a number of periodicals, for example Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology; Journal of Peace Research ; and Peace and Change.. The measure of the success of these efforts will be seen in the ending of conflicts between countries and nations, in a more just distribution of goods, and in reducing the differences in economic development and life standards between the countries of the underdeveloped and developed worlds. For the culture of peace to become established, it is necessary to accept the principles of uniqueness in diversity and to establish the social norms of respect, dignity, and the rights of every individual.

See also: Individual Differences.


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Dinka Corkalo

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Peace Education

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