Quick: What do Abraham Lincoln, George Bush, and Usama bin Ladin all have in common? For radical peace educators, the answer is simple: their actions reveal them all to be violence-loving bullies. Thats right: there is a small but dedicated group of radical teachershow many is hard to know, since they belong to no one organization, though there are enough of them around to be concerned about their influencetelling kids that theres no meaningful distinction between terrorism, a war to free slaves, and a defensive war to stop terrorists bent on your destruction. War is evil, and people who wage war are evildoers. End of discussion.
Colman McCarthy, director of the Washington, D.C.based Center for Peace Education, is a leading guru for these ideas. He thinks American schools are steeped in violence education. Kids read about nothing but war in their textbooks, he claimsa fact that reflects not wars tendency to change history, but Americas soft spot for the smell of napalm. A discussion of Gettysburg? It just conveys the false lesson that the way to solve conflicts is through fists, bombs, and nukes. Were addicted to war, explains Naomi Drew, a McCarthy devotee and New Jersey peace-education consultant. McCarthy wont even vote, since the president swears to uphold the Constitution, a violent document, in the peace educators view, whichhorrorssupports a standing army.
Instead of teaching violence, McCarthy, who gives about 100 talks a year at high schools and colleges across the country and who teaches regularly at seven of them, believes that schools should teach peace. He has edited two textbooks with essays by peacemakers like Gandhi and Dorothy Day; he estimates that more than 100 schools now use them. Demand for his textbooks would be much higher, he asserts, but teachers have to teach to the testwhich presumably requires them to include questions about such warmongers as, say, George Washington and FDR.
The peace-ed solution to the worlds problems isat bestunworldly in the extreme. For example, Drew, author of a conflict-resolution curriculum promoted by the New Jersey Bar Association and used in a number of New Jersey schools, offers advice on her website about what teachers should tell children who ask what America should do about a dangerous tyrant like Saddam Hussein. Military action is out of the question; instead, Drew writes, we should work with our United Nations . . . to contain, even arrest, those who commit crimes against humanity, as we did with Slobodan Milosevic. He was captured and tried in the World Court and is now in jail. She conveniently neglects to mention a little tussle called the Kosovo War, without which Milosevic might still be in power.
At worst, as in the Bush = Usama comparison above, the peace educators fail to make elementary moral distinctions, smushing all violence into the same muddled heap. What is the most urgent concern for parents today? asks the Atrium Society, a peace-ed organization, in another typical example of this tendency. Answer: Bullying on the playground and on the battlefieldas if there were no difference between the nasty jock shoving smaller kids up against the school lockers and a trained soldier risking his life to defend his country.
Fortunately, many teachers who call themselves peace educators dont actually believe that reading about the Battle of Gettysburg will turn kids into thugs or that Milosevic was captured by a couple of Danes politely knocking on his front door. Theyre mostly concerned with trying to civilize eight-year-olds prone to pummeling the dorky-looking class math whiz. Their methodsanger management, bully prevention, and so onare benign enough.
Yet there are plenty of peace educators with far more global ambitions. And at least some kids really have learned to think critically, as these radical teachers often describe their goal. Last spring, Washington Post reporter Laura Sessions Stepp interviewed a number of D.C.-area students who wondered why the United States should go to war in Iraq when everyone knows youre supposed to use your words. My school was telling us not to call names or beat people up, and now we see the government bombing Iraq, one high schooler huffed.
Peaceniks dream of eradicating evil through educationas if evil were merely a product of bad schooling. Fortunately, its likely that most kids will find far more truth in the noble battle against eternal evil depicted in The Lord of the Rings movies than in such crank theories.