ISSN 1522-211X O J P C R

The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution








OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution is a resource for students, teachers and practitioners in fields relating to the reduction and elimination of destructive conflict. It is a free, yet valuable, source of information to aid anyone trying to work toward a less violent and more cooperative world.

Issue 5.1


From Peacekeeping to Peacebuilding

From Violence to Peace: Terrorism and Human Rights in Sri Lanka

Personal Empowerment as the Missing Ingredient for a Resolution of the Israel/Palestine Conflict

Creating a More Peaceful Classroom Community by Assessing Student Participation and Process


To Protect Democracy (Not Practice It): Explanations of Dyadic Democratic Intervention (DDI)

Why did the Colombia Peace Process Fail?

Truth and Reconciliation: The Road Not Taken in Namibia

Africa Crisis Response Initiative: Its Workability as a Framework for Conflict Prevention and Resolution

Culture, Gender, Power and Conflict in Melanie Thernstrom's Halfway Heaven: Diary of a Harvard Murder

Kant's Perpetual Peace: A New Look at this Centuries-Old Quest

An Analysis of Bloody Sunday

The Jewish Group: Highlighting the Culture Problem in Nation-States

How Can I Teach Peace When the Book Only Covers War?

Cooperation in Pluralistic Societies: An Analytic Mathematical Approach

How Can I Teach Peace When the Book Only Covers War?

Laura L. Finley

For a printer-friendly PDF version, click here.

"I would no more teach children military training than teach them arson, robbery, or assassination"

Eugene V. Debs


Unfortunately teaching children military training is precisely what we do in our public schools. One way this is accomplished is through the use of military-style teaching methods. Eisler (2000) calls this dominator processes. She argues that, oftentimes, schools use methods emphasizing competition over cooperation and subordinate whole groups of people, generally girls and students of color, in the process. As Boulding (1988) says, "Either the school encourages creative mental constructs in children or it insists on formalistic learning of prepared patterns" (90). Even our school structures often utilize this dominator model, which is characterized by hierarchies of power. Boulding (1988) notes, "The obstacles to knowing lie not in our minds but in the structuring of our institutions, the roles we pattern for each succeeding generation, and the way we use tools" (93).

While most educators do advocate teaching children peace, another difficulty, on top of structural and methodological issues, is curricular materials focus primarily on warfare. Specifically, it is estimated that textbooks disproportionately cover war and conflict, while devoting little, if any, attention to peace and peacemakers. McCarthy (1994) describes an activity he often uses at the beginning of his peace studies courses. He lists the following names for students to identify: U.S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, William Westmoreland, Jane Addams, Jeannette Rankin, A.J. Muste, Adin Ballou, and Dorothy Day. He states, "Everyone can routinely identify the first five: All are generals. It is rare that anyone knows the second five, all believers or practitioners of nonviolence" (14). Yet, "the students aren't to blame for knowing only the first five names. In elementary school and high school, and continuing through college, they are taught the history of America's seven declared wars and a fair portion of the 137 undeclared wars" (14). McCarthy (1994) also says, "Eighteen-year-olds come into college knowing more about the Marine Corps than the Peace Corps, more about the Bataan death march than Ghandi's salt march, more about organized hate than organized cooperation" (6).

This is because history from the dominators, the conquerors, is what we generally hear. As Oldfield (2000) asserts:

All our history books foreground the history of conquerors, the champion slayers of humanity, from Alexander to Caesar to Augustus to William the Conqueror to Napoleon - 'No attention is paid to the defeated…The defeated disappear.' Official history takes the murderers at their word (90).

Oldfield (2000) continues: "War always strengthens the hand of the state over the people - no matter what ideology the state purports to serve" (72). Another problem is our curricular materials often make it sound as though there is no opposition to war and no human ability to live in peace because humans are, by nature, aggressive. Alger (1995) examines this notion. He says the question is often, "Why bother? Human beings have always killed each other and they always will. To confirm this, you need only follow the daily headlines and study history" (128). As McGuiness (1988) explains, when opposition to war is covered in the curriculum, it is almost exclusively about the peace movements of the Vietnam War era. She says:

When it comes to today's peace movement - not the one 'back then' - the media take another tack. That reaction can be summed up in a two-word question: 'What movement?' Look through any of the nation's daily papers. There's a choice of stories about war preparations, military buildups, flashpoints of tension that could lead to World War III. Yet, try to find even one story about today's peace movement (xv).

Clearly this has changed slightly as national and world-wide opposition to "Persian Gulf, Part Two" forced the media to pay some attention to peace movements. Unfortunately the trend is often to demonize them, rather than explore the issues they bring up. As Sharp (in Wink, 2000) notes:

Most people have been totally unaware of the history of struggle without violence. Thus, every time they have engaged in nonviolent struggle, people have had to improvise anew. Suppose that had been the case with war? Suppose no armies had been organized. Nobody had studied military strategy and tactics. Nobody had tried to invent new weapons or even develop training in the use of existing weapons (233).

Yet, as Yarwood and Weaver (in Hicks, 1988) note, "As long as war has existed there have been people who have opposed it on moral, religious, or rational grounds" (94). Hicks (1988) states, "Throughout human history there has always been an interest in and striving for peace" (5). Further, Alger (1995) states:

Peace is not news because most people live in peace with their neighbors most of the time and most countries live in peace with neighboring countries most of the time. Isn't it ironic - the fact that wars are given headline status is good news! This means they are not the normal state of affairs. This simple truth is an element of encouragement for those who hope for a more peaceful world, but it also makes teaching about peace difficult. Educators must overcome the partial view of the human condition propagated by bad news in the headlines and by histories that emphasize battles and wars (128).

This work examines the coverage of peace and war in 17 US History texts. The paper begins with a look at what is already known about students' understanding of war and peace, as well as the sources of this knowledge. This is framed by a discussion of militarism and militaristic ideology. Results of an analysis of US History textbooks at the elementary, middle, and high school levels are also presented. The paper ends with discussion of the significance of research findings and alternatives for teaching peace.

What Kids Know/How They Know About War and Peace

Most educators will admit students do not merely learn what is taught at school nor what educators intend for them to learn. As Hicks (1988) asserts, "Children do not, of course, come to school unaware of the world in which they live. Schools merely intervene in an ongoing educational process, that of childhood socialization, by which children learn the mores expected of their culture, class and gender" (9). Raviv, Oppenheimer, and Bar-Tal (1999) describe seven studies of students in Seattle conducted by Torney and colleagues in the 1970s. In each they found "the mass media, especially television, are the primary sources of orientation toward war and peace" (39). Unfortunately, few seem to have considered that the messages we send, via the media as well as the school curriculum, processes, and structures, teach kids warfare is what history is all about. Gil Fell (in Hicks, 1988) maintains, "Surrounded by images of violence in the media and through books, films, and videos, it is hardly surprising that children view war and violence as courageous and exciting" (74). For instance, Covell (in Raviv, Oppenheimer & Bar-Tal, 1999) describes the media presentation of the Persian Gulf War:

Commentators described 'surgical strikes,' and 'collateral damage' as viewers watched images of eerily beautiful bombers flying in the moonlight. When victims were shown or described, they were American. The implicit message to North American children was that war is a game which the United States wins (117).

On the other hand, we generally do not teach our kids what peace looks like nor that it is possible to achieve. It receives little to no coverage in traditional school curricula and materials. Further, when war is covered it is done with a sense of passion and excitement, while peace, when it is included, is portrayed as passive and boring. Yarwood and Weaver (in Hicks, 1988), state:

War comes to them [students] through the media (television, films and comics) mostly in the form of 'entertainment,' rather than as news or for their education. As a subject for entertainment, war is most often presented in an escapist way highlighting the exciting, manly, and heroic aspects and playing down the darker reality of war (95).

Lest we think this "education" does not impact students, Yarwood and Weaver (in Hicks, 1988) go on:

The action for such films is often relived and played out around the neighborhood with increasingly lifelike toys by both boys and girls. The fact that they are pretending to kill does not enter into the game. The underlying attitude is that killing is not wrong, provided you are killing the 'baddy' (95).

Clearly, then, students do internalize the message that war is acceptable, even the "right" answer, given that it is for a just cause.

Numerous authors, including many of those in the Hicks (1988) volume, describe the fact that, while students generally understand what is meant by the concept of warfare, they "often have very hazy ideas about the nature of peace" (9). A 1965 study found children develop verbal associations with the terms war and peace by age six; from this point on they largely construct their own images (Raviv, Oppenheimer & Bar-Tal, 1999). Gil Fell (in Hicks, 1988) notes, "When first-year secondary students were asked to draw a free word association from the term conflict almost all of the 11- and 12-year old students' first association was war. Their language associations were not only of the implements of war but also of its corollary-death, maiming, sadness, and grief" (55). Further:

Even quite young children have positive images for war and conflict while their images of peace are weak and passive. This was borne out by a group of 5- to-9 year-olds I worked with. The images they associated with war and conflict included words such as 'daring,' 'adventure,' and 'hero,' while for peace they include words like 'white,' 'dove,' and 'silence.' This was despite the fact that, in conversation, they appeared quite clear that fighting often hurts and can lead to killing (74).

Cox (as cited in Boulding, 1988) notes, "while we use the word 'war' in a verb form (to war on evil, for example), 'peace' peace does not have a verb form. We cannot 'peace' on an adversary. Unlike warring, peace is not thought to be something we can do" (141). Maude Royden (as cited in Oldfield, 2000) states, "Warfare is not simply 'satanic' - it too is a 'great adventure,' a heroic risking of self for others and it is this very 'heroism' of war, not its cruelty, that leads all the world after it" (54).

Further, kids do not seem to have a grasp of the notion of positive peace, or "a set of social, political, and economic conditions dependent on the realization of rights and authentic democracy" (Reardon, 1995, 7). Fell (in Hicks, 1988), states, "Current, widely held concepts of peace are negative, defining peace in terms of an absence of war or violence rather than as something positive in its own right. Definitions which are couched in the language of the opposite tend to appear passive, as if they have no real meaning except by contrast with their corollary" (72). According to Alger (1995), "Because the media emphasize extreme conflict and violence, and because the academic study of international relations tends to emphasize the same phenomena, young people tend to assume that a world with widespread violence is inevitable" (155). Although there are a multitude of explanations for why we have allowed our curricular materials to stress war, we can look at the broader understanding of militarism as an umbrella for them all.


To begin this section, we must first understand some definitions of militarism. According to Yarwood and Weaver (in Hicks, 1988):

Militarism may be defined as a set of attitudes and social practices which regard war and the preparation for it as normal and desirable social activities. Examples of militarism include encouraging children to play with war toys, or taking a school outing to a military tattoo. Militarism is promoted by presenting an unbalanced, even false picture of war; by exaggerating the heroism, nobility and glamour associated with war, and suppressing the darker realities, society is presented with a distorted picture (91).

Cooke (in Hicks, 1988) also discusses militarism. He says:

Militarism sees a secure society as one which must be based on authoritarianism and military values, and helps to legitimize the use of force and war. The arms race is thus seen as a sensible response to outside danger. Military power is linked to the notion of national security. Good citizenship is therefore about obeying authority, while to dissent is to be unpatriotic (106).

Reardon (1988) describes what she calls the war-thinking paradigm. She says war-system thinking is dualistic, antagonistic, and confrontational; it causes us to think in terms of ends, not processes; it is reductionistic; and it emphasizes analysis or pulling things apart. "The war system is not only organized warfare and armed conflict - it is all of the practices, institutions, and interrelationships that are essentially violent, that destroy relationships, that impede social development and human fulfillment. It is at the very core of our thinking and our relationships" (Reardon, 1988, 50).

In sum, when militarism is the dominant ideology, it stands to reason children will be socialized in ways that promote military-style answers to world problems. Duczek (in Hicks, 1988) also describes the ways militarism impacts on the socialization of children. "Societies with militaristic tendencies socialize their young into accepting conflict and its 'solution' by force and repression as the 'natural' order of things. In short, might is right" (173). Covell (in Raviv, Oppenheimer & Bar-Tal, 1999), reflects on the role of militaristic ideology in the creation of enemies:

U.S. children, since they are socialized for patriotism and usually are members of the 'good guys' (for example, in presentations of war in Libya, Panama, or Grenada), must be expected to interpret the war differently from Canadian children. Support for military intervention is facilitated by patriotism and by the positive character of U.S. children's perception of the U.S. political system fostered by schools (118).

Schools, as institutions in a militaristic society, are not immune from its influence. While McCarthy (1994) maintains it is not the militarists but the pacifists fault that few schools include peace studies in their curriculum (he argues pacifists must market their wares more efficiently), this logic underestimates the degree of militaristic ideology in schools. Research results described below indicate the textbooks we use with our children to study US History reinforce a militaristic ideology; the notion war is what US History is all about.

Description of Research

What follows is a description of a content analysis of 17 US History textbooks for their coverage of war and peace. Chapter headings and sub-headings were analyzed for each text, as well as citations for war and peace. "War" citations include "war," "military," and each of the major wars in US history (American Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War, World Wars One and Two, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf). "Peace" citations include "peace," "pacifism," "anti-war," and "non-violence." The texts analyzed are compared in two tables; one detailing the breakdown of war versus peace in chapter titles and the second describing the breakdown in citations.

According to the American Textbook Council's website, several of the books analyzed are among the most widely adopted textbooks in elementary, middle, and high schools across the country. Additionally, other texts were assessed based on access. While not intended as an exercise in understanding all US History textbooks, this research allows us some important insight into just what is being covered in schools.

Table One

War Versus Peace in Chapter Titles

Text Name  Pub. Year  Grade Level  Total Chapters  War Chapters  Peace Chapters 
The U.S.: Past to Present. 1985 5th 25 4/5* 1*
Our Country. 1995 Elementary 26 4/5* 1*
The U.S.,Yesterday and Today 1990 Elementary 24 5 0
The US: Its History and Neighbors 1991 Elementary 23 4 0
U.S. and Its Neighbors. 1990 Elem./Middle 24 4 0
One Flag, One Land (vol. 1) 1986 Middle 16 2 0
One Flag, One Land (vol. 2) 1986 Middle 15 3 0
Two Centuries of Progress 1991 Middle 32 3 0
The American People: A History to 1877 1986 Middle 30 5 0
The Story of America 1994 High 30 7 0
A History of the U.S.. 1986 High 36 6 1*
America Is. 1995 High 30 5 0
Rise of the American Nation. 1982 High 43 5 0
The American People, A History 1986 High 32 5 0
History of the U.S. 1997 High 33 6 0
The Americans. 1988 High 40 10 1*
The US: Its History and Neighbors 1985 High? 23 5 0
N=17 Mean=28.4 Mean= 4.88
*5 used for 4/5
*1 used for these mixed message titles

Table Two

War Versus Peace in Citations

Text Name  Pub. Year  Grade Level  War Pages  Peace Pages 
The U.S.: Past to Present. 1985 5th 71 0
Our Country. 1995 Elementary 98 1
The U.S.,Yesterday and Today 1990 Elementary 42 2
The US: Its History and Neighbors 1991 Elementary 42 4
U.S. and Its Neighbors. 1990 Elem./Middle 44 1
One Flag, One Land (vol. 1) 1986 Middle 40 2
One Flag, One Land (vol. 2) 1986 Middle 40 2
Two Centuries of Progress 1991 Middle 55 12
The American People: A History to 1877 1986 Middle 75 0
The Story of America 1994 High 43 0
A History of the U.S.. 1986 High 158 21
America Is. 1995 High 136 11
Rise of the American Nation. 1982 High 139 10
The American People, A History 1986 High 111 6
History of the U.S. 1997 High 145 7
The Americans. 1988 High 112 10
The US: Its History and Neighbors 1985 High? 110 2
N=17 Mean=89.1 Mean=4.94


The results of this study are clear; there is an inordinate amount of attention focused on warfare in the US History texts analyzed. An average of 89.1 pages are devoted to war topics. By contrast, little attention is devoted to the study of peace, peacemakers or even opposition to specific wars. An average of only 4.94 pages are cited for peace. A simple look at chapter titles can tell students what is important; an average of 4.88 chapter titles specifically use the word "war," in contrast to an average of less than 1 for use of the word peace. Sub-headings, another indicator of "important" topics, are also disproportionately about war. An average of 18 sub-headings included reference to war, revolution, or other violent conflict.

The sections that do discuss peace are mere paragraphs and often only cover the nonviolent civil rights movement of the 1960s and student protests of Vietnam. Only five texts discussed any opposition to World War One. Of these, most of the discussion centered on the League of Nations and US neutrality rather than real pacifism. For instance, in The US and Its Neighbors: The World Around Us (1990), it is noted that peacemaking was via treaty. This diminishes the many peacemakers and conscientious objectors as though they were irrelevant. Further, the text said many people were worried about their sons dying in the war, but did not mention any protest against it. Another interesting point made in Rise of the American Nation (1982) is about the Espionage Act, which made it illegal to speak out or publish materials that disrupted the war effort. Many pacifists, including several members of the Socialist party, did distribute such literature based on their opposition to war. This text makes it sound as though the Espionage Act was necessary and good and these people were criminals, rather than the act being a repression of free speech rights and these people being concerned about the inhumanity of war. One flag, One Land (1986) states, "being neutral in thought was hard for many," reinforcing the notion to unknowing readers that all Americans eagerly rushed to support the war. In fact, Chomsky (1991) states, "The population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European war" (7).

In contrast to what we read in these texts, there were groups active in the anti-war effort. The American branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded in 1915 and took the lead in protecting the rights of conscientious objectors who were treated poorly during the war. Many of these people were jailed, with sentences ranging from 25 years to life (Wink, 2000). A.J. Muste was another figure active in peace movements from this time through the 1960s (Hentoff, 1970). Holmes (in Wink, 2000) says:

Out of the Great War of 1914 there emerged a pacifism which promised to be one of the few compensations of that vast calamity. Thousands of persons in every belligerent country refused to take part in the war for reasons which have become an impressive part of the history of our times. They were persuaded that the war was a struggle between sordid and greedy imperialisms, and thus involved no issues which were worth an expenditure of blood. They felt as well that, even though there were some issues of genuine significance involved, the resort to arms was not only unwise but fatal, since war never settles anything. In the last analysis they were convinced that the price of war is so heavy - its waste and destruction, its agony and death, so uncontrollable and irreparable - that its evil is altogether out of proportion to any conceivable good it may achieve (8)


Only two of the texts mentioned anyone opposed to World War Two. Neither of these noted the opposition to use of the bomb, despite the fact that several of its main architects, including Albert Einstein, expressed reservation about its use. One text, The US, Yesterday and Today (1990), explicitly stated there was no protest: all were allegedly in support of the war effort. In actuality, there were 43,000 conscientious objectors, with 37,000 of those receiving alternate service placements. At least 16,000 of these people were incarcerated in federal prisons based on their war-time opposition ( McGuiness (1988) tells the story of Esther Webb, a pacifist from Maryland, who said, "Before Pearl Harbor there were enormous demonstrations in the District of Columbia to keep us out of the war" (179).

While 14 of the books included some statement about opposition to Vietnam, it was generally described as an opposition to what was happening in this war specifically, not an opposition to war in general. For example, The US, Yesterday and Today (1990) said the young took the lead in opposing the war because they did not believe it was our problem. In Two Centuries of Progress (1991) it is stated that "many turned against the war" (654). Another, The US, Its History and Neighbors (1991) explained that, as casualties grew, so did protests. While technically true, this is an over-simplification of the anti-war movement that reinforces a militaristic ideology; if only everyone believed this was a just war, there would be no problems.

An environmental peace initiative was quite large in the 1970s, yet received no coverage in these books. Cesar Chavez used nonviolent tactics in the economic sphere to organize the United Farmworkers Union, although students will not learn about him from these books (Wink, 2000). None of the books mentioned anything about opposition to US military endeavors in the 1980s, including invasions of Grenada and Panama, either. McGuiness (1988) describes a number of groups, including Witness for Peace, started in opposition to US policies in Nicaragua. Further, no mention is made of the anti-nuclear peace movement of the 1980s. Although many of the texts are too old to have covered the Persian Gulf War, no mention of any opposition was made in those that did include it. In fact, Our Country (1995) states, "a great majority of the American people supported this war." While it is true, based on public opinion polls, that support was high, there was indeed some opposition to our invasion in the Persian Gulf. Chomsky, for instance, was a vocal critic (1991), as were members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, whose members are "dedicated to propagating nonviolence in season and out, regardless of its popularity in the general culture, because they are convinced, with Martin Luther King, Jr., that nonviolence is not only the human future, it is the only future" (Wink, 2000, xiii).

None of the texts discuss Mohandas Ghandi, even in the section on the civil rights movement, a time period heavily influenced by his teachings. Only one text mentioned Jeannette Rankin, the first female US Senator and the only one to vote against US involvement in World War One. This text makes a point of noting she lost her seat because of her war-time opposition. They also do not spend any time discussing other peacemakers. For instance, Helen Keller, widely known to most students because of her personal achievements in dealing with her blindness and deafness, was heavily involved in the Socialist movement and was an outspoken pacifist. Dorothy Day worked for prison reform so they might become more humanitarian, yet is not discussed. A few books do mention Jane Adams, not as a peacemaker, though, but as a feminist. Additionally, the US has had several Nobel Peace laureates, yet these people receive no coverage in the texts reviewed. For example, Jody Williams, a laureate in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, could easily be discussed in a number of places where discussion of warfare using landmines is occurring.

It is not surprising, then, that children have fuzzy images of what peace truly means and do not understand the concept of positive peace. Further, when they are presented with material about peace and peacemakers they see it as boring, whereas warfare is exciting. As Boulding (1978) notes, " Some would argue that the war-peace segment of human activity is the only dramatic, exciting and interesting part of it and that the drama, excitement, and interest it produces may be worth the cost in human lives and goods" (30). Is it possible, though, to have a curriculum teaching peace in such a way that students see it as an active, exciting adventure? Many scholars think it is and have developed various methods of doing so. Some of these alternatives will be explored here.

Teaching Peace in General

While it may not be possible to end the reign of militarism in US society, teachers can take the lead in halting the spread of militaristic ideology in their classrooms by electing to practice and teach peace. "To bring about instructional reform, teachers' potential to be thoughtful and deliberate architects of teaching and learning in their own classrooms must be tapped and supported" (Cochran and Lytle, as cited in Bey and Turner, 1996, 69). Maguire (in Wink, 2000) states what must be done:

First, we need to teach nonviolence to the children of the world - in India, in Northern Ireland, and everywhere. Recently, twenty-two Nobel Peace Prize laureates asked the UN to declare the first decade of the new millennium as a 'decade for a culture of nonviolence for the children of the world' (161).

Sayre (in Wink, 2000) makes this recommendation:

A national friendship policy could only grow out of a national friendship tradition and this ought to be taught in the schools. It would necessitate a thorough revision of almost all of the history textbooks, it would call for a new order of patriotic songs and oratory, a blending of the conception of world service with the salute to the flag… (211).

Sharp (as cited in Hicks, 1988) discusses the many ways of teaching peace education. "Peace education as peace through strength is supported by governments and armed forces who see the maintenance of peace being achieved by armed deterrence. The emphasis is on current and recent history and the need to maintain one's military superiority" (7). This, as seen in the research results, is the dominant paradigm in US History texts. However, Sharp notes students can also be taught conflict resolution and mediation, peace education as personal peace, peace education as world order (a more global issues approach), and peace education as the abolition of power relationships (Hicks, 1988). Each of these approaches at the elementary, middle and high school level will be briefly explored.

In describing what peace education should look like, Hicks (1988) maintains it is not a separate subject but "the creation of a dimension across the curriculum, a concern that may be explored in different ways with any age group and in any subject" (11). The following are the skills, attitudes, and knowledge Hicks (1988) identified as central to a peace education curriculum:

  • Skills: Critical thinking, cooperation, empathy, assertiveness, conflict resolution, and political literacy.
  • Attitudes: Self-respect, respect for others, ecological concern, open-mindedness, vision, and commitment to justice.
  • Knowledge: Personal and global conflicts and attempts to solve them, various concepts of peace and those individuals and groups involved in peace movements, key issues and ethical dilemmas to do with conventional war as well as the effects of militarism on individuals and groups, key viewpoints on nuclear defense and disarmament as well as effects of nuclear war and the efforts of individuals, groups and governments towards a nuclear-free future, personal and global justice, issues of power and the ways unequal distribution impacts people's life chances, history of gender and racial discrimination and the ways it operates to the advantage of white males, concern for the environmental welfare of the world's people, and understanding of a range of alternative futures, including those preferable and those most likely, as well as their consequences.

As Reardon (1988) points out, it is important that war as an institution is addressed. She says most peace education:

deals mainly with single issues and particular cases (such as the proposed nuclear arms freeze or the war in Nicaragua), with the aim of avoiding or limiting war. In the minds of some peace educators, this failure to focus on war as an institution or on the 'war system' helps to perpetuate the notion that war itself is too great a problem to tackle (14).

Important in teaching peace is the notion of multiple ways of knowing. This allows us to look at history from the lens of those who were defeated as well as those doing the defeating. Rennebohm-Franz (1996) states:

Peaceful and positive learning with multiple versions of learning and multiple versions of human experience develops understanding of diversity. With multiple versions of ways of coming to know our world as well as multiple versions of presenting and sharing understandings, we begin to weave an educational tapestry that reveals the complexities, diversities, commonalities, and interconnectedness of many human experiences (266).

Eisler (2000), in her book Tomorrow's Children, examines ways educators can use partnership, rather than dominator, methods. These methods allow children to discover and collaborate to learn material focusing on egalitarianism. Eisler's methods are much like the "new Social Studies" of the late '60s and '70s, which included inquiry into controversial issues, simulations, games, and, most importantly, student participation in all phases, from selection of content through assessment (Reardon, 1988). She also recommends many historical and current partnership-oriented materials that can be used in the classroom at all levels. In fact, students at all levels can be asked to critique their own school's textbooks for coverage of war and peace.

Jacobson (in Reardon and Nordland, 1994) describe ways teachers at all levels can use the 11 "big ideas" of ecology to teach peace. The 11 include an understanding of systems, cooperation and cooperatives, cycles, risk analysis, the producer-consumer-decomposer cycle, the importance of both balance and change, succession, population growth patterns, tolerance, food chains and food webs, food pyramids, radiation, nuclear war, and uncertainty.

Lasley (1994) describes a way to teach for a more peaceful future by centering our curricula around the notion of selflessness. This, he says, is a value that crosses national barriers and religious beliefs, and thus can be found in the stories and parables of virtually every civilization. He says:

The transmission of culture to young people is failing in America because educators, parents, and community leaders exhibit a tendency to look for one set of canonized politically correct ideas rather than fully appreciate the truths or verities that bind together the multiple traditions that now form the mosaic of American culture (9).

He goes on to describe the importance of multiple sources of peace-related material. Once, children were presented with "parable-like stories from McGuffey's Readers or religiously oriented moral tales from Far East Stories" (17). Yet, "Even the stories and books children read at school increasingly focus on topics and ideas that dwell on children who are self-absorbed and materialistically-driven" (17). Further, there are indeed other cultures, like the Fore of New Guinea and the Mbuti of Zaire, that have limited or no inter- or intra-group violence that we could teach our children about (Lasley, 1994).

Reardon (1995) has developed a K-12 teaching resource focused on educating for human dignity. She says, "The ultimate goal of this kind of education is the formation of responsible, committed, and caring planetary citizens with sufficiently informed problem awareness and adequate value commitments to be contributors to a global society that honors human rights" (3). The curriculum includes elements of economic equity, equality of opportunity, sustainable environment, freedom of person, and democratic participation. This kind of curriculum can, "invite them [students] to be actors in history, to be creators of standards that identify and challenge the problems of their times. It enables them to see that human rights standards emerge from notions of 'social wrong,' conditions society comes to see as contradictory to the fundamental values that uphold the social contract" (Reardon, 1995, 9).

Teaching Peace at the Elementary Level

Pace and Podesta (1999) recommend using children's literature as a way of introducing students to an understanding of peace. "Literature has long been accepted as a way to help children confront problems and cope in this complex world. Recent research demonstrates positive effects on moral development through the use of literature" (118). They recommend a variety of Dr. Seuss books containing peace-related messages, including Sneetches and Other Stories (1961) and The Butter Battle Book (1984). Thus using literature can address all of the methods of peace education, from showing children methods of conflict resolution used by characters in stories, to finding and journaling about their own personal efforts at peace, to addressing global peace concerns, to understanding how hierarchies of power create conditions of oppression not peace. Lasley (1994) also identifies a number of children's books that teach about various elements of peace education.

In Reardon's (1995) human rights curriculum, students at the elementary level begin with a foundation for appreciating human dignity. Kindergarteners start out in talking circles where they discuss what it means for us to be human beings, but also minerals, vegetables, and animals. Students also explore, through these talking circles, the ways humans are alike and different. First grade students can help create classroom rules that are fair and help to protect them. Second grade students brainstorm the needs of a child and wishes for a better world, then create presents for a new baby that will meet the needs described and include an important wish. Third grade students begin looking at and valuing global diversity by conducting research into other cultures. They also become acquainted with the United Nations 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child through case scenarios. This curriculum also addresses the various methods of peace education described by Hicks (1988).

Teaching Peace with Middle Level Students

Literature can also be used at this level. There are a number of insightful books, appropriate for students of this age group, that can provoke conversations about conflict resolution, personal and global peace, and power relationships. One such book is Lois Lowry's The Giver. Students can also be asked to read and debate controversial issues, including those about war and peace, by using Greenhaven Press's Opposing Viewpoints series.

Reardon's (1995) human rights curriculum has fourth grade students create trees of life as a metaphor for the UN's Rights of the Child. Materials for teachers to familiarize themselves with this document are available through UNICEF. In fifth grade, students use the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and materials from the Convention on the Rights of the Child to debate and understand the key concept of how rights are established. Another activity has them brainstorm then conduct service projects in their communities. In sixth grade, students look at what it means to be hungry, what it looks like to be hungry, and where people are hungry throughout the world. Discussion centers around what the class can do to assist in alleviating world hunger. In seventh grade, students can more critically assess some of the documents used in earlier grades, deciding if there are items included that should not be or important omissions. In eighth grade, students address racism as a war to be eliminated, addressing roots of racism and current impacts of it through role playing and case studies. Students also learn about human rights through drama, expressing what they feel it means to be human and to have human rights. Ninth grade students can analyze lyrics, films, television programs, and books about human rights. This might include such books or films as Animal Farm, The Handmaid's Tale, or 1984.

Teaching Peace with High School Students

At this level students extend their understanding of peace issues. Students can conduct research into peace-related issues, such as environmental racism, the use of capital punishment, access to birth control, and many more. They can and should be asked to take a stand on these issues, keeping in mind what is best for overall global and personal peace. Students should also be asked to consider how the issues they learn about affect them and how they can get involved in making the world a better, more peaceful place. Service projects should definitely be continued at this level, allowing students, whenever possible, to design their own projects and reflect on their experiences. Reardon (1988) emphasizes the importance of reflection, not just at the high school level but for all learners. "We need to encourage a type of reflectiveness that permits us to look beyond our ordinary understandings of reality, to move into something approaching a meditative or contemplative process through which we deepen our understanding of personal, social, and global realities" (62). Further, we need to "develop another form of silence, reflective listening" (Reardon, 1988, 62). Ruggieri (2000) states, "By using personal writing as a vehicle and allowing students to discover the power of their voices, English teachers have the unique opportunity to encourage expression that can create peace within their students' hearts and minds" (47). Obviously this method is not exclusive to English classes.

Students can also engage in critical media literacy by conducting content analysis projects about various peace issues, such as how women are depicted in particular film genres or how a specific minority group is represented. Students should be asked to share their findings with their classmates, but also with other audiences via presentations, written materials, and website creation. Rather than simply preparing lectures, students can create poetry, short stories, songs, artwork, and other creative outlets describing their findings.

High school students can use Eisler's (2000) partnership and dominator models to analyze and classify examples throughout history. They can also analyze the English language in order to better understand the impact of militarism on our speech and thought patterns (Eisler, 2000).

Students can read books about peacemakers, such as People Waging Peace by McGuinness. They can find their own books to read and critique as well. Further, students can look for alternative media sources, such as The Nation, Mother Jones, or The Onion. They can also be asked to write their own articles about war and peace for The Onion, using the same satirical voice. Other alternative sources include WarTimes, a publication about peacemaking efforts, and Real War Stories, a comic book about the atrocities of war available through the War-Resisters League.

Integrating economic concepts, Reardon's (1995) human rights curriculum has high school students discussing the differences between needs and wants, assessing consumption patterns worldwide, and debating whether there is a human right to food. Students at this level also analyze the multiple ways peaceful change occurs, including personal change, the work of committed individuals, and the work of government and nongovernmental organizations. Students can explore the morality of certain historical and current actions, including the Holocaust and other genocidal actions, assessing who is responsible and what course of action they should take. Reardon (1995) lists numerous resources and films at the end of her book that are appropriate for use with high school students.


Given that some teachers may not have the choice of whether or not to use a textbook, schools and teachers need to go beyond what is covered in the textbooks to engage students in critical inquiry of peace and conflict using alternative supplemental sources. It is through challenging our existing curriculum and materials that we will begin to work for a more peaceful future. Hutchinson (1996) maintains:

You cannot reach a given historical objective by walking in the opposite direction. If your goal is liberty and democracy, then you must teach people the arts of being free and of governing themselves. If you teach them the arts of bullying and passive obedience, then you will not achieve the liberty and democracy at which you are aiming. Good ends cannot be achieved by inappropriate means (54).

As Simone Weil, "The punishment capable of punishing Hitler, and deterring little boys thirsty for greatness in coming centuries from following his example, is such a total transformation of the meaning attached to greatness that he should thereby be excluded from it" (Oldfield, 2000, 91). Further:

Virginia Woolf's conclusion is that war, in the long term, can only be abolished if both men and women can rid themselves of their subconscious need to dominate and to be dominated. To this end she advocates a radically different education programme - in the first place for women, but also, by implication, for men - one that would teach not the arts of dominating other people, not the arts of ruling, of killing, of acquiring land and capital, but…medicine, mathematics, music, painting, literature…the arts of human intercourse; the art of understanding other peoples' lives and minds (Oldfield, 2000, 118).

Smith (as cited in Hicks, 1988) says, in the tradition of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, "Education should liberate from but it should also liberate to, and what it would be liberating to in this case is to contribute to the building of a better, more equal society…" (205). Perhaps this statement says it best:

"Since wars begin in the minds of people, it is in the minds of people that the defenses of peace have to be built" (Raviv, Oppenheimer, & Bar-Tal, 1999, 28).


Alger, C. (1995). Building peace: A global learning process. Pps. 127-62. In Merryfield, M., & Remy, R. (1995). Teaching about international conflict and peace. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Bey, T., & Turner, G. (1996). Making school a place of peace. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Boulding, E. (1988).Building a global civic culture: Education for an interdependent world. New York: Teachers College.

Boulding, K. (1978). Stable peace. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Brock-Utne, B. (1985). Educating for peace. New York: Pergamom Press.

Chomsky, N. (1991). Media control: The spectacular achievements of propaganda. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Eisler, R. (2000). Tomorrow's children. Boulder: Westview.

Henthoff, N. (Ed.) (1970). The essays of A.J. Muste. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Hicks, D. (Ed.) (1988). Education for peace: Issues, principles, and practices in the Classroom. London: Routledge.

Hutchinson, F (1996). Educating for the 21st century: Beyond racist, sexist and ecologically violent Futures. Peabody Journal of Education, 71 (3), 42-62.

Lasley, T. (1994). Teaching peace: Toward cultural selflessness. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.

McCarthy, C. (1994). All of one peace. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

McGuiness, E. (1988). People waging peace. San Pedro, California: Alberti Press.

Oldfield, S. (2000). Alternatives to militarism, 1900 to 1989. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Pace, R., & Podesta, A. (1999). Teaching peace with Dr. Seuss. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 35 (3), 118-21.

Raviv, M., Oppenheimer, L., & Bar-Tal, D. (1999). How children understand war and peace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Reardon, B. (1988). Comprehensive peace education. New York: Teachers College.

Reardon, B. (1995). Educating for human dignity: Learning about rights and responsibilities. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Reardon, B., & Nordland, E. (Eds.) (1994). Learning peace: The promise of ecological and cooperative education. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Rennebohm-Franz, K. (1996). Toward a critical social consciousness in children: Multicultural Peace education in a first grade classroom. Theory Into Practice, 35, 264-70.

Ruggieri, C. (2000). The value of voice: Promoting peace through teaching and writing. English Journal, 89 (5), 47-54.

Wink, W. (Ed.) (2000). Peace is the way: Writings on nonviolence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.

Laura L. Finley recently received her Ph.D. in Sociology at Western Michigan University. She has taught high school social studies as well as sociology and criminology and teacher-preparation courses at the university level. She is currently teaching sociology, criminology, and race and ethnicity courses as an adjunct at several universities in Colorado. She has published and is interested in media issues concerning race and ethnicity and media coverage of crime, as well as peace education, school violence, and student privacy rights.

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More


The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution is published by the Tabula Rasa Institute.

Article Copyrights held by authors. All else ©1998-2003 Tabula Rasa Institute.