I'll be presenting on critical peace education next week at the CIES 2012 conference, arguing that critical peace education (CPE) is vital to our efforts to achieve larger scale conflict transformation. One particular skill, collaborative problem solving, is not often described within the context of classic critical theory (Habermas 1989, Foucault 1995). Here is a key contribution of critical peace education to the project of global conflict transformation.
However, CPE results in not just local capacity-building, in the sense of collaborative problem solving, critical thinking, or the sort of critical analysis political and economic elites abhor. When at its best, it can inspire a new sense of dignity, which is a basic human need (Burton 1990; Duckworth 2011). I am defining dignity here as a sense of self-worth, as well as a sense of one’s ability to contribute to one’s community in a positive manner. Also inherent in dignity, I believe, is a sense, both individual and social, of some sort of say in one’s future. Perhaps such critical dialogues take the form of dialogues on alcoholism, labor, and the military junta, as in Freire’s foundational Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2003). Perhaps it takes the form of one group of young nonviolent revolutionaries from Belgrade teaching younger revolutionaries in Cairo how they overthrew a tyrant (Rosenberg 2011). Maybe communities in Colombia empower themselves by mapping the resources of their own local community (Bastidas and Gonzales 2008). Detained juveniles have used writing and blogging to reflect on their communities, families, schooling, and choices (Duckworth 2011).
Beyond engaging students in critical dialogues about their worlds and what must most urgently be transformed, critical peace education classrooms at their best immerse students in practical, localized, and multi-disciplinary projects through which students can simultaneously develop essential skills such as critical analysis, community-building, and collaborative problem solving (Bajaj 2008; Duckworth 2006, 2011; Salomon 2002; Salomon 2004; Salomon 2007; Ndura-Ouédraogo and Amster 2009). They design and implement programs which positively transform their communities and so experience themselves as powerful agents who can indeed impact society. Given that a sense of powerlessness is often part of the identity of those oppressed or marginalized, the importance of beginning to challenge that narrative by helping students experience themselves as effective agents cannot be underestimated.
Students participating in CPE programs in public school classrooms or any other community venue should emerge, in my view, with a clear understanding of the processes of oppression and totalitarianism in general; they are hardly relics of the 20th century. Cultural manipulation through excess consumerism, atomized individualism, encouraging xenophobia, stoking fear of foreign enemies, policies which discourage education, and other such strategies should be “called out” as seeds of authoritarian oppression. Authoritarianism is at least as much of a mindset as it is a form of government. This makes us as citizens the last real defense against authoritarianism.
*The above is adapted from my forthcoming chapter in my edited volume Conflict Resolution and the Scholarship of Engagement.