Think peace education is easy? Not so fast
Some teachers are scared to death of peace education.
Sharon Ann Cook should know – she has worked with thousands of teachers and pre-service (student) teachers as a faculty member of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education. Dr. Cook was the guest speaker at a recent meeting of peace groups and educators co-convened by PeaceQuest and The Ripple Effect Education.
Dr. Cook described the many challenges faced by teachers who want to teach about peace in classrooms. By tackling difficult subjects, they risk being charged with bias or unpatriotism because peace education has been “politicized.”
Ontario’s education system has been reworked in a neo-liberal model where once-valued peace education is practically non-existent in today’s curriculum, she added.
Teachers are also worried about the amount of preparation time required and the challenge of dealing with often distressing topics. Handled badly, the lesson could “blow-up” in the classroom, leaving students feeling hopeless, frustrated, and shut down.
She shared lessons from her experience coordinating a global education teacher education program in a 2015 paper entitled, “Reflections of a Peace Educator: The Power and Challenges of Peace Education With Pre-Service Teachers.”
The potential for controversy described by Dr. Cook was illustrated this year by a teacher who was rebuked by parents and the Indian government itself for teaching about the Indian farmers protest in her Brampton classroom.
The way forward
Links with experts and NGO educators who are familiar with the topics and can confidently teach students in an age-appropriate manner is very important for teachers.
Even more, networks of like-minded teachers who can support peace and social justice-focussed colleagues are crucial to improving peace education pedagogy, and potentially handling parents and school officials if difficulties arise.
Dr. Cook commended the peace and social justice community of practice approach used by PeaceQuest and partners to support teachers. Members had many questions for Dr. Cook, and agreed to share her research widely.