How Schools Can Grow As Nurseries Of Peace

– Synopsis of a talk delivered by Dr. Mridula Mukherjee, Director- Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in a Teachers Consultation organized by Pravah

In today’s world of growing violence, distrust and insecurity, the need for peace education is even more profound. However, the big question is, how can teachers build a culture of peace? Because peace education is not just about putting high ideals before the youth, it is about translating these ideas into a framework in a way that they are internalized by young people.
 
3 steps can help teachers grow as peace educators:
• Be alive to what is going on around.
• Understand peace.
• Help students understand peace and be empowered to deal with violence in peaceful ways.
 
To begin with, teachers need to be open to conflicts that are going on, and open these up in the classrooms for discussion and debate and build a greater understanding of it among students. This is because violence is something that children internalize, and they are encountering it everywhere. They are bringing real fears and anxieties in the classroom, and so real issues in society cannot be outside the purview of education. In this context, schools too need to respond to what’s happening around and empower teachers to open issues in society up in the classroom and make students make sense of it and more importantly, explore peaceful alternatives together.
 
But to be able to take up this responsibility, teachers themselves first need to build their knowledge and belief in peace and acknowledge that there is no alternative to ‘content’ when it comes to teaching peace. Teachers need to recognise that conflict is a part of life, and if one accepts diversity, one must accept difference. They need to strengthen their belief in peace, and equip themselves with the right methods to make the students understand that peace is not just a concept, but it can be practised in life. Apart from this, teachers need to develop skills to handle issues of violence, such as communalism or casteism, at a level of complexity. They need to believe that children can handle complexities, and gain the skills to explain complex issues in a simple manner, without ‘simplifying’ the issue. To be able to do this, teachers, need to understand the complexities themselves.
 
To help students understand peace in action and be empowered to deal with violence in peaceful ways, India’s own history can be used as a very significant example. India’s struggle for freedom, largely a nonviolent movement, was a time when people of India came together as one people, putting aside gender, caste, religious and regional differences. And this is a legacy that cannot be over-highlighted. Further, India survived extremely strong communal violence and then built a secular state. It also now has a 60 years long history of practicing democracy. Examples such as these from history can not only make practicing peace real and possible, but also instil confidence in children to overcome challenges they face in peaceful ways.
 
However, teachers should be conscious to not stop critiquing, but help young people understand that being critical is not equal to being ashamed of ourselves, and that it is important to focus on achievements. Young people need to understand that we have the strength as people and believe in it. They need to develop a belief in their own abilities besides developing a faith in nonviolent resolution of conflict – faith in negotiation, dialog, consensus building – and see that it is not just desirable, but is possible.
 
 All this will help young people grow up with confidence and with a belief in peace. Further, if they see conflicts not being diffused in classrooms, but being resolved through negotiation and discussion, they will learn to handle challenges in life and society in similar ways.
 
This is how teachers and schools can be nurseries of peace.

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