Esther Sokolov Fine is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at York University, in Toronto, Canada, where she has taught since 1991. Before coming to York, she was an elementary teacher with the Toronto Board of Education. There, she taught in downtown public housing communities and alternative programs, including four years at the Downtown Alternative School (DAS). The book Children as Peacemakers (1995), which she co-authored with teachers Ann Lacey and Joan Baer, presents a history of the Downtown Alternative School and tells about the early years of peacemaking.
Raising Peacemakers: Making The World A Safer Place For Children To Be
In Raising Peacemakers Esther Sokolov Fine writes, “It is chilling to write this book about child peacemakers as troops from around the world amass to wage war in the cause of peace. How are children to comprehend this deepest of all contradictions?”
It is this question that so many parents and teachers are asking. As parents, how do we explain war to our children? As teachers, what are our responsibilities? There are official reports on the role of teachers in preparing children in schools for armed conflict, but is that really the role of public education?
Is it possible that by teaching peacefulness in schools humanity would be less likely to go to war? It is with these thoughts in mind that Garn Press turns to Esther Sokolov Fine who has spent the past twenty-two years in a raising peacemakers project in a Toronto downtown school.
Garn Press: Why is this type of work on peacemaking important?
Esther Sokolov Fine: Patrick Shannon writes in the Foreword of Raising Peacemakers that this work is “an alternative to the ‘war’ pedagogy of learning as competition to be measured precisely in order to declare winners and losers.”
Pat Shannon continues in his Foreword that the book shows “how and why the peace curriculum changed the dynamic relationships among the school’s children, adolescents and adults, both immediately and across time.”
He asked, “Instead of settling for a single measurement of the question, ‘Did my intervention cause some learning?’” and he wrote that I show “how adding peace to the curriculum altered the complex, personalized systems in the lives of the children.”
GP: How can peacemaking as a pedagogical practice have a positive impact on the lives of children today?
ESF: I’m going to paraphrase page 107 in Raising Peacemakers. Many educators want a “formula,” a prescription, a set curriculum for peacemaking. Downtown Alternative School (DAS) kids I interviewed know that it is more effective, more life-changing, when it is “organic,” “authentic,’ “real,” though these words are all inadequate to describe the development of social skills, empathy, and ethical sense among people who truly want to resolve (or preserve with respect) their differences.
GP: What makes the peacemaking process different from other strategies to combat bullying/conflicts among children?
ESF: Peacemaking at DAS is an approach, rather than a “program.” Three years of videotaping at the school documents very young children discovering how to express and listen in conversations with each other as they exchange a range of versions (perspectives) on something that has happened. This approach uses moments of conflict as opportunities for discussion.
GP: One last question: How can students in teacher-education programs use this process to inform their future teaching practice?
ESF: Teachers, teacher-educators, and researchers can use the story of DAS and the DAS stories as inspiration to engage others, including children and adolescents, in developing their own organic style of peacemaking.
In Raising Peacemakers Christine tells us that her experiences with peacemaking have probably made her friendly, more open to other people and their opinions, and a less angry person than she might otherwise have been. She says, “I know how to deal with my problems because I was taught at a very young age how to do it.”
And Dale tells us: “The ideal of it was really really important and something that’s still ingrained in me now … overall just the idea of not using violence to “solve” problems … that’s what I remember most about it and just the principles behind peacemaking and not necessarily the process itself.”
GP: This is a very different pedagogy to the ‘war’ pedagogy that Pat Shannon wrote about in the preface to Raising Peacemakers in which learning as competition is measured precisely in order to declare winners and losers, and also to declare war on the world.
Thank you for reflecting on Raising Peacemakers. Let’s hope policy makers change direction and focus on schools as peaceful places for children to be. If they did this generation of children could change the future for humanity.
By: Esther Sokolov Fine
Hardcover, Paperback and eBook
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Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-942146-19-3
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-942146-12-4
eBook ISBN: 978-1-942146-13-1
Garn Press Imprint: People and Society
Hardcover: $24.95 USD
Paperback: $17.95 USD
eBook: $9.99 USD
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