True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.

Martin Luther King (1957-1968)

response during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955

Beyond War

The war on Iraq has been and gone. The ramifications will be with us for a long time. And there is also a dichotomy. On the one hand we will be more at risk from terrorism in all senses of the word, on the other we have greatly increased our capacity to create a new paradigm. The rise of the peace movement has been phenomenal. People have begun to realise that war and terror are social systems, and as such, can be ended. We have the capacity to live in harmony. We have the capacity to live in peace. What we lack are the social and economic structures to realise this capacity. But we can create them. And perhaps we must create them, for failure to do so could result in destruction. Is World War Three more than a breathe away? Are we at the pinnacle of despair or the pinnacle of endeavour? Perhaps both? Perhaps there is a choice. And I know what I choose. I choose peace. I choose life. How about you?

Grand sentiments but what exactly do they have to do with the TLC? On more than one occasion in the past I've been told to be professional. I've been told to keep politics out of the classroom. I've been told to make distinctions. I've been told that my ideas are too broad, too general and therefore either impractical or inapplicable. For example, take my concerns about competitive games in the classroom. I feel these are divisive, I feel they inhibit genuine learning, I feel they promote a view of the World that is cruel and without compassion. I've seen children reduced to tears by competitive games but I've been told that the problem lies with the child and not the game. The child is too sensitive. I've been told that competition is a fact of life and that it's best to get used to it. I've been told that by playing competitive games children can prepare themselves for the ‘real' world and that an exclusive diet of non-competitive and co-operative games is depriving children of fun and excitement, and more over is unfair to those who like and enjoy competition. I've been told that using competitive games is the most efficient way to maintain order in the classroom and keep children on task. And I agree.

I agree.

Using competitive games is easy, we do live in a highly competitive society and children can be controlled in the classroom using competition. It's simple, it requires little thought and it does prepare children for the World we have now. It does prepare children to out and compete and get the good jobs. And it also prepares children to go out and fight and die on the battlefield.

Competition prepares children for death.

Modern war is not an aberration. It is part of the social system we have created. It is politics by other means, it is business by other means and it will be a fact of life until we change the systems we live by. Competitive games prepare children to participate in a social system that has war as one of its roots. I feel this cannot be denied. It's possible to argue that the society we have is good and that war is worth the price, but to believe that war is an accident or a misfortune is simple stupidity. The history of the twentieth century alone should suffice.

But if we accept that war is part of our social structures then what can we, as individual teachers do about it? The task appears daunting. How can we change society, even if we wanted to? Well I have news. It's possible and currently, it's easy! We do require courage and we do require tenacity, but most of all we simply need to realise that WE CAN!

First we can realise that social systems do change. A few hundred years ago keeping slaves was an accepted business practise. No longer. Now we have sweatshops and many people are challenging the existence of them as well.

Second, we can realise that the world is ready for change and is changing. Look at the number of people who have rose up to challenge the war on Iraq.

Third, we can realise that every action does make a difference, however small. Chaos theory is the in thing in physics, at the moment. If a butterfly flapping its wings can produce a storm a continent away just imagine what a few people can do!

Fourth we can recognise the significance of process and desire. There is no requirement for us to have mapped out a new social system before we start creating it. Realising what we don't want can be enough. Indeed Einstein said, it's not even possible to find an immediate solution, but by engaging in the process we will create new social systems.

Grand realisations, but what do we actually do? Here are my suggestions:

1. Use non-competitive and co-operative games within the classroom. See this as a counterbalancing the competitive structures within existing society.

2. Once you have introduced non-competitive and co-operative games GIVE CHILDREN THE CHOICE! Allow children to choose and experience competitive games, if they desire, but avoid pushing them yourself. This is very important! Give children as much freedom as you can.

3. Make sure you get feedback upon activities. Also talk with children about their feelings. Honour their feelings. Never dismiss a child as over-sensitive, or over-competitive, but help them to see the relationships between their actions and their feelings.

4. Think thrice about the materials you purchase:

  • How will I use these materials. This is the usual focus for teachers, but think beyond the lesson and think more globally.
  • Do these materials promote peace, love and understanding? If they don't do they do the opposite. Imagine the perfect society, do these materials build towards that utopia or move away from it?
  • Who profits from my purchase. Guard your economic power. I'm not telling you to boycott specific countries, and be wary of cutting your nose to your face, but think!

5. Build Community! Keep the grand vision in mind. Act locally, think globally as the saying goes, but also think locally and act globally. Work to expand your circle of influence and be consistent. Look for global patterns and apply them.

6. Do something new, do something different and enjoy it! It can be a challenge to take a new course of action. Realise that it is a learning process. But also realise that if we continue to follow our old patterns of behaviour we will get the old results. We've had war for too long.

7. Above all – think for yourself. Don't follow me, or anyone else! Be mindful, be watchful and encourage the children in your trust to be the same.

Someone said that there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come. Here are three ideas I think it is time for. I hope you agree, and if you do I hope you will act to realise them. Thanks for reading.

It's time bombing in all forms is recognised as a crime against humanity

It's time biological Weapons are recognised as a crime against humanity

It's time producing, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons is recognised as a crime against humanity

Spring 2003
(Altogether Now - Values
Column in Teachers Learning with Children (adapted)
The Newsletter of the JALT Teaching Children SIG