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March 1997 - Issue No. #26 (p.14 -15)

This is an edited version of a paper from the JALT'96 colloquium "Linguapax, Language Teaching & Peace"

Peace Education? No, Thank You!

Why European Teachers Find it Difficult to Deal with Global Issues in the Language Classroom

by Reinhold Freudenstein (Marburg, Germany)

In May, 1995, many politicians and citizens in Europe thought of the end of the Second World War fifty years ago. After the atrocities of a war that lasted only six years but brought death and suffering to millions of people, one should have thought nothing like that would ever happen again.

But, according to information from the International Red Cross:

  • more than 200 wars have been fought since 1945 in which at least 40 million people have been killed

  • there are now 56 armed conflicts worldwide involving over 17 million refugees and 26 million people exiled from their homes; 95% of those affected are innocent civilians

  • over 100 million people have left their homes because of economic difficulties

  • 160 million suffer from the results of natural catastrophes

I could easily go on listing other numbers and events which show that the world is in disorder. It is highly fitting that the 1991 German Linguapax III workshop report was entitled "Language Teaching in a World without Peace" (Raasch, 1991).

There should be nothing more important today than to work towards peace in the world - on all levels, including the modern language classroom, bearing in mind the statement of Pope John Paul II "If you want to reach peace, teach peace".

When I first offered a seminar on peace education at my university in Marburg, Germany, I had only three students who showed interest in the topic. At the same time, I had more than 60 students who wanted to work on topics like "Computers in the Language Classroom" or "For and Against Homework when Teaching English". Naturally, I was disappointed, but gave the seminar anyway, and was able to count on very motivated students. Next, I tried a workshop on peace education at a regional language teachers' meeting. There was only one of 200 participants who wanted to attend it. When I asked him why, he said he'd never heard of global education and wanted to learn what it was all about.

In other words, neither language students nor teachers seem to feel the need to include peace education in the modern language classroom. After the publication of one of my articles on peace education, I received a letter from a very angry teacher. There is no time, he wrote, to concentrate on extras that don't belong to the main concerns of language teaching. "Leave us alone with these theoretical considerations, better tell us what to do when pupils do not understand the difference between the past tense and the present perfect."

I think there are four reasons why peace education is not valued by the majority of teachers in my country, and I have the feeling that the situation in other European countries is not much different.

Reason #1: There have been no wars in Western Europe since 1945.
Many teachers do not see the need for peace education because there have been no wars in Western Europe since the Second World War. This is why most language teachers accept traditional stories without hesitation and neglect important issues of current concern. For them, "Mr. Carter's Monday Morning" or "A Visit to the Zoo" are more important than a chapter on Hiroshima or World Hunger.

There is still too much belief in "grammatical progression" where formal grammar is taught step by step. In my country, one study found that 40-60% of language teaching time is based on formal grammar instruction. If grammar is more important than meaningful content, textbook stories will continue to be written to cover particular language items and not because of their significance to the lives of the learners.

Reason #2: "Peace" is just a term.
A systematic study of German textbooks for teaching English shows that "peace" is just a term, a vocabulary item to be learned - nothing more and nothing less. During the first and second years of study, it does not appear at all. When it is introduced during the third or fourth year of study, it has the same importance as "breakfast" or "butter" or "cowboy". There is no concept behind the term, no appeal, no exhortation. It is simply a word like hundreds of others. I know, of course, that peace education is more than the teaching of vocabulary; but if you don't have the terms available for discussing global issues, peace education cannot take place.

Reason #3: Language teaching methodology prevents the presentation of important new subject matter.

A few years ago, I attended a JALT conference in Tokyo and still remember how impressed I was when I listened to Japanese colleagues talk about the different atmosphere, increased interest and greater student motivation in the classroom once they dealt with global education topics such as peace and the environment. To learn how to think globally, you have to act locally - in your own classrooms. And here is where language teachers in my country find it difficult, if not impossible, to break with traditional methodology. They are used to working with textbooks approved by ministries of education which - so they argue - contain everything important for teaching a language.

Peace is ranked in the same category as "international friendship" which is highly praised as a general educational aim but which no teacher feels personally responsible for. Peace education has not been an integrated part of modern language textbooks, and since teachers are not flexible in using other sources besides the textbook, it cannot become a topic of systematic study. Methodology in language teaching still concentrates on grammar, translation and literature as it has for the past 100 years. As long as there is no additional time available for language study - teachers argue - they have no time for other activities.

Reason #4: The term "peace" has been misused in the past

Before the breakdown of the communist system in Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, the word "peace" was used there in entirely different contexts. Throughout their lives, people were educated to campaign for a "war towards peace" in the name of socialism. The Berlin Wall was constantly referred to as a "peace protection wall". When I talked about global issues at a 1992 conference in Prague in honour of Johann Comenius, one of the first influential peace educators, my socialist-bloc colleagues made it clear that, after half a century of "peace" used in the service of communist ideology, their students would not trust them if they began to use the term again.

What can be done to change the present situation? I see the following three tasks:
  1. We must continue our attempts to convince our colleagues, and the general public, that peace education is one of the most important challenges and opportunities in the years to come. More and more people will cover the earth in the next century, so we must learn to live peacefully side by side. This is a lifelong process which starts in the family, continues at school and must be practised thereafter in jobs and professions. We must therefore strive to introduce peace education in teacher training seminars, in professional publications, in national and local curricula, and in language textbooks.
  2. We have to convince the teaching profession that peace education is closely connected to our teaching style. More than 90% of teachers still practise an authoritarian approach, a question-and-answer method of instruction based on strict rules of command and obedience, where questions are only asked to find out whether pupils know the correct answers, and not what they really think or believe. Teachers know that a democratic teaching style is educationally preferable, but they continually find reasons not to implement this: large classes, a pressing teaching load, too much content to cover, classrooms not suitable for group work, etc. All this might well be so. But, to educate for peace starts with a peaceful educator. An 8 year old girl in my neighborhood, when asked what she didn't like about her English lessons at school, said, "I don't like my teacher shouting at me". This is where peace education can begin.
  3. Most important for peace education are the classroom activities initiated by language teachers. Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." In peace education, we are still on Level 1: telling students about global issues and they forget. Some teachers have reached Level 2: teaching about peace using materials from UNESCO and elsewhere which promote international understanding. We should now aim to involve all students in peace education activities so that they learn how to build a peaceful world. This cannot be excluded from modern language teaching, particularly after two World Wars and hundreds of other wars fought in the 20th Century. There is no alternative.

Reinhold Freudenstein
Am Weinberg 72, 35096 Weimar/Lahn, GERMANY


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