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