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Education and Nonviolence

We want to see a really nonviolent society, but we can’t see it yet. Thinking about getting the whole society from here to there we have to think about education, too, because education, both formal and non-formal, is one way of socialization, one way society constitutes itself. Thinking about nonviolence and education means that we have to define both of them as well as their relation. Nonviolence (principled or pragmatic) means minimizing violence (physical, mental, structural, cultural); it entails being coherent or developing respectful relations between individuals in the society. Education means constructing knowledge, habits and skills as well as developing personality or respectful relations amongst individuals in the society. Hence, nonviolence already implies education and - vice versa - education already implies nonviolence.

But this is an idea, it’s not yet reality. In fact, we see a really violent society and a violent education still. Credit: Stephan Brües: A school tour in Germany with and about Nonviolent Peaceforce membersCredit: Stephan Brües: A school tour in Germany with and about Nonviolent Peaceforce membersHow do we get from violent to nonviolent education? There are different answers to this question as there are different aspects to education. In modern society there are different educational institutions. There is formal education (intentional and certified, e.g. schools) and non-formal education (less structured than formal, more structured than informal, e.g. WRI Conference, Theme Group, Workshop). As our violent social systems too often are replicated in our school systems, we have to challenge how we learn in a formal way, as well as value how we learn in a non-formal way.

There are different levels and different subjects in education. But nonviolence relates to all levels from primary education through secondary education to tertiary education. And it does matter for many subjects from Art through Citizenship, Geography, and History to Languages.

Some schools are public while others are private. On the one hand, public schools are free and often run by militarist governments; on the other hand, private schools charge fees, and may be run by pacifist providers.

There are compulsory and voluntary schools. On the one hand compulsory schools force one into their system; on the other hand they guarantee education for all.

So, we have to discuss and perhaps argue about these aspects of educational institutions. Do we want to abolish compulsory education? Or are we able to offer opportunities and environments to learn nonviolence within public education? What can administrators, parents, students, or teachers do to transform formal education? What rights and duties do they have? This leads us to the aspects of educational curricula, which are as many as there are institutions. If we see the relation between nonviolence and education institutions as “nonviolent education”, we see the relation between nonviolence and education curricula as “nonviolence education”. Nonviolence is not only a form of learning, but it also refers to the content of learning.

What do we need to learn, if we want to learn to create a truly nonviolent society? Like a society itself, a nonviolent society has at least two, if not three levels. On the micro-level we have to learn personal nonviolence. This includes specific attitudes, perceptions, communication styles, and behaviors. A good example for micro-level nonviolence education is peer mediation among youth in school. On the meso-level we have to learn social nonviolence. This deals with discrimination and promotes respect between local groups, be it ethnic, linguistic, or religious groups. For example local or regional reconciliation in post conflict situations can be seen as meso-level nonviolence education. Finally,on the macro-level we have to learn political nonviolence. This means we have to analyze intra- and international conflicts including civil wars and develop their civilian nonviolent resolution like in civic education in schools. Although these ideas seem to be global or universal, there will be regional or local differences of nonviolence education because there are differences of situations between countries like, say, Burundi and Germany.

We propose to focus the theme group “nonviolence and education” on formal (primary and secondary) education curricula because we imagine that the theme group “counter-militarization of youth” will deal with formal education institutions, while the theme group “nonviolence training” will deal with non-formal education curricula, and the theme group “peace building” will deal with non-formal education institutions.

We propose on day (1) to get to know each other, our interests, our expectations, and the issues of education and nonviolence. Perhaps we can do that talking to a teacher and two students. On day (2) we want to look at formal education and micro-level (non)violence and its problems including structural violence of education institutions themselves. On day (3) we would like to talk about formal education and macro-level(non)violence and its problems including political influence and principles of political education (like controversiality and no indoctrination) in public schools. And on day (4) we will discuss options of transnational cooperation for nonviolence education and prepare the report for the market.

The aims and principles of both education institutions and curricula should be to advance liberty and equality or simply democracy as much as possible. “As much as possible” implies that there will be some problems or conflicts because most students are still developing, not yet fully developed personalities like most parents and teachers. There never will be any final state of nonviolent education, but like nonviolence itself nonviolent education will be a process.

Elavie Ndura and Kai-Uwe Dosch