As we get older formal education becomes less of an influence for most of us but it is certainly one of the greatest influences on children. In this article I will go through most of the National Curriculum Key Stage 3 subjects and make brief suggestions on how each subject could help educate for peace and foster a culture of non-violence.
English Pupils could script and perform a play, or write a short story, about the experiences of a young refugee. Debates could be held on child soldiers in the UK and overseas, or on the possession and use of nuclear weapons. Texts, such as military recruitment literature or the front pages of national newspapers in times of war, could be analysed for the use of language and what is said explicitly and implicitly. These activities would increase understanding and awareness of war and peace issues; develop skills of empathy; illustrate links between the personal, local and global spheres; and promote honest talk and sensitive listening.
Maths How about calculating the amount spent on the military in one particular country, region, continent or conflict? By using meaningful data pupils value the learning experience more and take the learnt skills and knowledge beyond the classroom. Military spending figures could be compared to GDP, education or health spending, or how much it would have cost to resolve a conflict non-violently. Graphs, charts and so on could be produced to display some of the relationships.
Science A study of the effects of war on the environment could take in all three natural sciences. Lessons could consider how the atmosphere and water resources are affected by war and how this in turn effects plants and animals. A discussion of nuclear technology would provide an opportunity to examine the ethics of scientific research and development and how scientific knowledge is used. Alternative forms of energy production wind, solar etc. - also have implications for the social and political world and for the location and type of future conflicts.
Design and Technology BAE Systems have a network of schools for which they provide materials, projects, competitions, visits, staffroom programmes and placement opportunities no mention of guns and bombs though in all their material, just clean healthy technology like jets and submarines. Design and technology lessons could focus on technology for a better world. Why not a project to design an environmentally friendly house or clothing with built-in safety features and communications technology, for example?
Information and Communication Technology ICT has greatly increased the potential for global co-operation but has also changed the way wars are fought. Pupils could use ICT to research and present their hopes for greater co-operation and understanding in the future by producing a website or multi-media presentation. Pupils could examine the morality of killing people from a keyboard thousands of miles away, or the notion of a ‘just’ war in which some are armed with hi-tech equipment and others use military technology centuries old.
History War is studied in History lessons in fact probably too much. However, the focus is usually on the events that took place battles, sinking of ships, declarations of war and declarations of peace. Visits to war cemeteries, battlefields and war museums tend to focus on sorrow, heroism and sacrifice. The really challenging questions of why, who was responsible and how can we avoid the same terrible mistakes in the future do not surface in the study of war in history lessons.
Geography Famine, food distribution, refugees, under-development, environmental pollution, natural resources (oil, diamonds, water etc.), trade flows and migration are all concerns of the geographer. They are also intimately tied up with violent conflict and war, yet war is hardly mentioned in the geography classroom. The negative effects of war on the human and physical geography of the world should form a major part of any geography course.
Modern foreign languages Amnesty International have produced some excellent packs on teaching human rights through French, Spanish etc. Pupils need to practise the language they are learning so why not focus the practice exercises around issues of peace and war. Being able to communicate across political and cultural borders easily is a good way of ensuring relations between and within states do not deteriorate to violence. Learning to listen is another key skill required for a more peaceful world.
Art and Design The art world is full of images of conflict, death and anger but also of peace, serenity and co-operation. By studying ‘peaceful’ images and ‘violent’ images pupils can learn how thoughts and emotions can be expressed through image and form. Signs and symbols have been used for centuries to promote war or peace. Pupils could design their own symbol or logo to promote a culture of peace.
Citizenship Human rights and responsibilities; the world as a global community and the role of the EU and UN; the work of local, national and international voluntary groups and the importance of resolving conflict fairly all form part of the Citizenship curriculum. Lessons could be focused on the right to life and responsibility not to kill; on the role of the UN Security Council and its members in armed conflict; on the work of Oxfam in the local community here and in war zones overseas; and on the failure of war and many ‘peace’ treaties to bring a lasting end to conflict.
Militarism should not be accepted in schools and could be challenged in all subjects. Promoting a culture of peace and non-violence should become a priority.