Friday, November 13, 2009

Peace Education and the Tragedy at Ft. Hood

Also published on Dr. Marc Gopin's blog.

Can peace education help to prevent the violent loss of life, such as we all witnessed recently at Ft. Hood? I believe that it is an essential piece of the puzzle. People offer various explanations regarding why a soldier murdered fellow soldiers. Some are pointing to Maj. Hassan’s Islamic identity or possible extremist views. Others point to his impending deployment to Iraq or sense of humiliation and social isolation. Since we know that very few behaviors are motivated by just one cause, I think it’s likely that all of these dynamics interacted.

Why do I think that peace education could have prevented such a violent act? At its core, peace education nurtures two vital skills, which are problem solving and relationship-building. Peace education also challenges stereotypes and resists the easy, pat explanation for someone’s behavior. It fosters people who view themselves as part of a whole, and centers on the values of equality and tolerance. In this way, it is the ultimate “anti-extremist” education. Had Maj. Hassan had the opportunity to participate in peace education at some point during his schooling, it’s possible that he would have not been able to dehumanize his victims as he did.

I don’t wish to minimize the possibility of mental illness here; it’s real and requires a mental health professional. If such details emerge about Maj. Hassan, they should be taken seriously. But students of peace education (and I consider myself still a student, even as I’m also a teacher) learn and practice nonviolent communication and should be able to articulate the cultural and historical narratives of various identity groups. They should also be able to articulate the narrative of their own national and social background so that their own cultural assumptions become visible to them. When successful, of course, this results in at least the beginnings of intercultural understanding.

We (the human race) repeatedly make the mistake of thinking that “basic” skills like cross-cultural communication, building relationships or problem solving are either not that relevant or something that people pick up along the way. Or if they don’t pick it up, they’re not going to. Peace education to me is so powerful precisely because it challenges this mistake; these skills can and must be taught.