Former Utne Editor in Chief David Schimke on conflict, compassion, partisanship, and peace
In an essay published by The Nation magazine on September 19, journalist and pacifist Colman McCarthy reports that in 1970 only one American college offered a degree in peace studies, but that now, according to the Peace and Justice Studies Association, there are more than 500 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs available on U.S. campuses. “Nationally, the peace education movement is growing—some say surging—because of the continued failure of military solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the belief that alternatives to violence do exist,” McCarthy reports.
A regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy co-founded the Washington D.C.-based Center for Teaching Peace with his wife in 1985 and, by his own estimation, has taught more than 8,000 students to examine their choices regarding violent reaction versus nonviolent response. “Instead of asking questions, be bolder and question the answers,” he writes. “What answers? . . . Those that say that if we kill enough people, drop enough bombs, jail enough dissenters, torture enough prisoners, keep fighting fire with fire and not with water, we’ll have peace forever.”
While the good news regarding the growth of diplomatic scholarship is both welcome and encouraging, what makes “Teaching Peace” especially compelling is McCarthy’s ongoing struggle to make the subject not just a collegiate elective, but part of the core curriculum in secondary education; a move too many public school boards still view as somehow subversive and private schools dismiss as academically insubstantial (read: unnecessary in the pursuit of Ivy).
“I’ve been accused of teaching a one-sided course,” McCarthy writes. “Perhaps, except that my course is the other side, the one that students aren’t getting in conventional history or political science courses, which present violent, militaristic solutions as rational and necessary.”
As partisan activists have proved again and again over the past 20 years, lasting political movements begin and end on the local level. McCarthy’s tale is a reminder that citizens who wish for a more peaceful future should take the fight to their neighborhood’s next school board meeting.
Source: The Nation