Sarah Zike is director of membership at Kappa Delta Pi.
Since 1981, the United Nations have observed International Day of Peace by calling for nations to drop their weapons and observe peace for one day. This year the theme of the day is “Right of Peoples to Peace.” Today, as in years past, they will ring the bell of peace at the UN headquarters, which was crafted with coins from children all over the world. The nightly news will tell us if arms were truly dropped and conflict was set aside for the day, but we can, individually, do our best to honor it.
In thinking about what peace means and how it can be a scaffold for our teaching and in our personal efforts, I found some wisdom from John F. Kennedy. He said: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” This sounds a lot like the process of educating and of becoming educated throughout our lives. So, how do we teach to bring about peace—to ensure that peace is the fulcrum upon which our children turn throughout their lives?
A classroom is a small society in and of itself. There are students—individual nations—with insecurities and rivals, access to more resources and less, and personal belief structures that may not match. Then, there is the teacher—not a dictator, per se, but more of a god who oversees all behavior and either punishes or rewards it.
In this role, teachers have tremendous responsibility and power for good or bad. I’m reminded of two events in my education that informed my approach and, unfortunately, began the development of my insecurities. In preschool, around Halloween, I stood in front of my teacher and was asked for my phone number. It was easy—888-0999. As I told her, standing there in my Snow White costume, she dismissed me, told me she didn’t believe me, and asked my mom later in the day. When vindicated, I might have felt better, but it never occurred to me to lie, especially to my teacher! Then in kindergarten, I had a little trouble tying my shoes the way we were instructed to, so I devised my own way. The shoes were tied. Job done, right? In school the next day, when demonstrating my achievement of the task, I was informed that I wasn’t tying them correctly and needed to try again. Enter insecurity two–the end does not matter if the means to achieve it aren’t correct, as instructed.
Peace in the little society of your classroom requires two things (in addition to many others, I’m sure): trust and openness to alternative perspectives and approaches. Extend trust to your students. Celebrate their creativities. Have faith that with gentle guidance and belief in their fundamental goodness as children, they may move to places closer to peace within themselves and may be more willing to extend that generosity and tolerance into other areas of their lives. Let them tie their shoes the way they can, and they will be less inclined to fight. They might surprise you with their creativity, too.