One can argue that education -- and hence educators -- provide the best opportunities to both prevent and de-escalate intractable conflicts. Educators can prevent intractable conflicts by teaching tolerance and critical thinking, as well as teaching students about multiple views of any difficult conflict situation. Although it is harder, educators also play a key role in de-escalating conflicts that already exist, by helping to break down stereotypes, increase mutual understanding, and help students develop new, and broader images of the world and possible solutions to their current dilemma(s).
Who Are the Educators?
Educators fall into two main categories. First, of course, are the traditional educators who work in classrooms from the pre-school through university level. The last generation has seen what can only be described as an explosion of interest in teaching conflict resolution and the related field of peace studies at all of these levels, from pre-school on up. The second broad area of education does not involve formal classrooms, but is carried out in the course of other activities by parents, peers, community, political, and religious leaders, the mass media, and entertainment industries. All of these people and institutions shape our images of ourselves, of others, and the world around us -- profoundly affecting our approach to conflicts we become involved in.
Peace studies began as a formal academic discipline after World War II, and grew considerably (at least in the U.S.) during and shortly after the Vietnam War. There are now several hundred such degree programs in the U.S. and many more abroad. In the 1980s, conflict resolution degree programs were started as well. Though fewer in number than peace studies programs, conflict resolution degrees are now offered at universities on every continent, save Antarctica.
The curricula vary tremendously. Some focus only on international conflict. Some cover international, domestic political, and interpersonal conflict. Those housed in law or business schools tend to concentrate on conflict in organizational settings and draw heavily on organizational development and other fields in which conflict is a central issue.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that conflict resolution has been "mainstreamed" into the curricula of conventional academic disciplines such as political science. Thus, I make conflict resolution a central component of the introductory and intermediate level comparative politics courses I teach. Similarly, at least some mainstream academics have included elements of conflict resolution in their texts on such topics as international relations.
K-12 (Primary and Secondary) Education
Conflict resolution has also made its way into the educational system below the university level. In what we in the United States call the K-12 grades, conflict resolution is not often part of the formal curriculum. More commonly, schools help students develop skills that would allow them to settle the conflicts in their daily lives nonviolently.
With younger children, this can be as simple as calling a "time out" when two or more students are arguing so that they don't start fighting. Among older children, the programs can be much more ambitious, including efforts to stop the shootings and stabbings which afflict many schools in the United States and beyond. Peer mediation programs are especially popular. Here students (usually 4th grade on up) are taught how to act as mediators for conflicts among their peers. They mediate playground conflicts at the elementary level and other interpersonal and intergroup conflicts among older students.
Three programs that are worth mentioning as examples.
In 2001, the Superintendent of Schools in Washington, D.C. (U.S.) decided to include some aspects of conflict resolution in every classroom in every school. A conflict resolution specialist was hired to supervise the work for, on average, six schools each. The program was widely applauded because of the widespread teen violence which has plagued the nation's capital for many years.
Some of these programs are born of tragedy, such as the Louis D. Brown Peace Foundation which was established by his parents, Joseph and Clementine Chery. Brown was a talented fifteen year old who announced to his parents that he would be the youngest and first African-American president of the United States. Unfortunately, while on his way to a Christmas party (ironically given by a group opposed to teen violence), Brown was killed in a random drive-by shooting. To honor their son, the Cherys established the foundation through the Harvard University School of Public Health. The foundation has created curricula on peace education for students from kindergarten to high school, provides speakers and training for schools, and has Louis D. Brown fellows who publish a book on peace each year.
Many peace education programs exist outside the U.S. as well. Indeed, given the much greater damage caused by intractable conflicts elsewhere, the need for input by peace educators is even more important. Sometimes, the mere availability of education -- not what is taught -- is critical. Thus, in Bosnia, it is hard to imagine the more than two million refugees and internally displaced persons returning to their home towns if their schools (as well as their houses) are not rebuilt. The European Union has funded World Vision, a Christian relief, development, and peace building organization to do that. But World Vision and many other groups go a lot farther and take on more ambitious, long term projects whose impact is often hard to measure. For instance, throughout the Balkans, World Vision, Search for Common Ground, and others have begun establishing multi-ethnic schools so that children whose parents had gone to war with each other can literally learn to live together in peace.
The most ambitious grass roots educational effort was the Beyond War, which spanned most of the 1980s and thus reached its peak early in the history of the field of conflict resolution. Beyond War (now the Foundation for Global Community) started by developing a curriculum to address the global crisis it saw being created by the new arms race in the Cold War and the growing interdependence of life on the planet. As they saw it, the leaders of Beyond War argued that learning to deal with conflict better everywhere -- from the interpersonal to the international level -- was the best to respond to that crisis.
It was able to raise enough money for families to move to 14 American states (later reaching 30 states and a handful of other countries) to start its program of public education. Part of its work involved public meetings including such different events as talks to local Rotary Clubs to some of the world's first "space bridges" in which satellite technology was used to host meetings that brought people on all continents "together." Mostly, however, it did much less spectacular work, for instance, by hosting three-evening seminars or "orientations to a world beyond war" in which groups of ten to twenty people got an introduction to basic conflict resolution skills. No one knows for sure how many people participated in those sessions, but it certainly topped a quarter million.
Since then, other organizations have broadened the training options available to adult learners. Professional organizations such as Educators for Social Responsibility and the Association for Conflict Resolution provide resources to help educate teachers and conflict resolution practitioners respectively. Grass roots organizations such as the Montgomery County (Md.) Center for Conflict Resolution offers sessions in which average citizens can learn basic conflict resolution skills. For people who cannot attend such sessions, there are some projects people can go to for online training, although we clearly have a long way to go before we have truly mastered distance learning techniques.
There are even summer camps which emphasize peace and conflict resolution. The most famous of these is Seeds of Peace in Otisfield, Maine. During its first season in 1993, Seeds of Peace brought together 46 Israeli and Palestinian teens for a summer of "normal" summer camp and conflict resolution training. By the summer of 2001, campers had come from 22 war-ravaged countries. And in 2002, young Afghans were added. As with everything else, the summer camp phenomenon is moving beyond the United States. In summer 2001, the Benetton Company brought nine National Basketball Association stars and 40 teenagers from the various republics of the former Yugoslavia together for two weeks of training in basketball skills and peace building. Oasis of Peace (Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam) has been conducting training for Jewish and Palestinian teenagers since 1979.
Perhaps most importantly of all, educators have to develop programs to integrate the more than 300,000 child soldiers who have been combatants in many of the world's intractable conflicts. Some were forced to fight before they were 10. Many have had no formal education and have no social or occupational skills -- other than fighting. Many have no remaining family members and are stuck living in squalid refugee camps or on the streets. Successful reintegration projects will have to help these (mostly) young men learn how to reconcile with their former adversaries, help the communities they move into prepare for them, and help provide opportunities for them to find meaningful lives and careers in societies which, for the most part, have shunned them. American readers will probably be struck by the similarities between the situation facing child soldiers and that of the more then 100,000 offenders who are released from prison each year, most of whom will end up back in jail.
Finally, it should be noted that very little is known about how effective any of these educational programs are. There is scattered evidence from the Middle East and elsewhere that programs that bring together teenagers for brief periods may not have much of a lasting impact. However, there is also evidence that some people undergo profound transformations in such sessions, especially those that last for an extended period of time. What we don't know is how to design these programs so that they can produce the kind of personal development that makes stable peace and reconciliation of intractable conflict possible.
 See, for instance, the evolution of Joseph Nye's, Understanding International Conflict. 4th ed. (New York: Longman, 2003). The first edition does not mention conflict resolution. The fourth edition gives it quite a bit of attention. That is true, by the way, of Nye's career in general. He has served in both the State Department and the Pentagon, but in another recent book, Nye talks about the importance of "soft" power in which the United States tries to use diplomacy and negotiation to solve international problems.
Use the following to cite this article:
Hauss, Charles (Chip). "Educators." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/educators>.