28 February 2020

War No More: Using Education to Advance Peaceful Coexistence

The Preamble to the United Nations Charter states: “We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…” This lofty goal was quickly thwarted by new wars, some of which continue to this day. Is “War No More” an idealist’s fantasy or a dream deferred?

On 28 February people of all ages gathered in the Trusteeship Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York for the 2020 Committee on Teaching about the United Nations (CTAUN) conference eager to learn about the role of transformative education in advancing the possibilities for peace at home, in the neighborhood, and throughout the world. The conference was co-sponsored by the Mission of the Republic of Korea and speakers included 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, feminist organizer and author Gloria Steinem, and president of Intercultural Virtual Exchange of Classroom Activities Eunhee Jung, UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, and the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, Christian Wenaweser, among others. The Faculty Excellence in Education Award and the Student Poster Competition Awards were also presented.

Cora Weiss, President of the Hague Appeal for Peace, in her final remarks rebutted the claim that as long as there are people there will be war. She underscored the numerous alternatives to conflict, including full participation and mediation, and the need for education to prepare future generations for peaceful co-existence. She noted that the climate crisis and the availability of nuclear weapons are issues that could lead to war but that can be addressed through other means.

Ms. Weiss and other speakers presented ideas and examples of education and schooling to advance peaceful alternatives. They discussed the importance of ethics in examining laws and standards of morality, and of distinguishing between and among the responses to tragedy: sympathy, empathy, and compassion – the last combining emotion with action.

Transformative education liberates individuals from their provincial origins, whether in the Bronx or the Balkans. This is an education that frees people from thinking only about what they are told to think; they have the freedom to think on their own. The liberated student not only advances in knowledge, skills, abilities, and values but also learns to reflect, to listen fully, to consider alternatives and consequences, and to continue learning on his or her own.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict; it includes the active participation of all men, women, and children in living in harmony with each other and the earth. Peace requires respect for all individuals and the belief that everyone is deserving of equal treatment and should not be seen as “others”.

The conference speakers emphasized that peace is a process that requires intentions, i.e., design, as well as solutions. As with everything worthwhile, peace also requires an investment. Yet the United States as an example spends as much each year on nuclear weapons alone, about 7 percent of the defense budget, as it spends on international aid.

In all too many cases, it seems that we do not think through the possible consequences of actions and then must use extraordinary means to correct our mistakes. With advances in the weapons of war, we must learn to anticipate so that we do not annihilate.

Thoughts of peace are not naïve; nor must peace be a dream deferred. The 2020 CTAUN conference showed the way forward.

Robert A. Scott, President Emeritus and University Professor Emeritus, Adelphi University, contributed this article.