Book Cover

Human Rights as Education for Peace

by Betty A. Reardon
Director, Peace Education Program, Teacher's College Columbia University

Peace Education Needs Human Rights Education

Peace education, a worldwide movement, is a diverse and continually changing field, responding to developments in world society and, to some extent, to the advancing knowledge and insights of peace research. As practiced in elementary and secondary schools and presented in the university programs that prepare classroom teachers, peace education goes by various names: conflict resolution, multicultural education, development education, world order studies, and more recently, environmental education. Each of these approaches responds to a particular set of problems that have been perceived as the causes of social injustice, conflict and war. Each could also be classified as preventive education education "as it seeks to prevent the occurrence of the problems which inspire it." More importantly each is conceived as education for peace, and thus acknowledges that it is intended to be a means to the realization of a set of social values. Although each relates to peace in the sense of social cohesion and the avoidance of the form of violence to which it responds, none of them displays the elements of prescription and holism so essential to understanding the increasingly conflictual interdependent, planetary social system from which peace is to be wrought from. Each is primarily responsive, particularistic and problem focused.

Even that strand of peace education that sees itself devoted specifically to [earnings about "peace making" has been primarily problem centered, focusing on "negative peace", the reduction, avoidance and elimination of warfare. As such it has been devoted more to a study directed toward eliminating the causes of war than to creating the conditions of peace, more to negative circumstances of what should not be than to the positive possibilities of what could be. So it is that peace education and peace studies (as the field is known in universities) has been a bit of a "downer" for all but those students who are either "positive thinkers" by nature, drawn to social action fields, or simply curious about the study of the "impossible". Thus, peace education as such is less visible in American secondary and elementary schools than the other approaches enumerated here which have more immediate relevance to community concerns. And only a small fraction of university students ever pursue courses in peace studies, even though they are now offered in several hundred institutions of higher education. While not entirely attributable to its responsive, particularistic and problematic nature, the fact that it is a minority not a majority of students who receive peace education, may well be a serious obstacle to the peace making capacities of this country, and any country which does not actively educate its citizens for peace. This assumption underlies the central argument. being put forth here that human rights education is not only a corrective complement to education for peace but that it is essential to the development of peace making capacities and should be integrated into all forms of peace education. It is through human rights education that learners are provided with the knowledge and opportunities for specific corrective action that can fulfill the perscriptive requirements of education for peace.

Human rights education, fast becoming another global educational phenomenon, appears to be developing along equally varied, but more substantively focused and perscriptive lines. It comprehends some of the same normative goals espoused by peace — education, provides a dimension of concrete possibilities for alternatives to current world conditions, and offers a constructive action dimension to complement and apply to all the diverse forms of peace education. Many recent world developments similar to those that have produced the existing approaches to peace education have been articulated as human rights issues and problems, so that some peace educators are adding human rights to the list of approaches. While the addition is certainly necessary, it is far from sufficient and fails to exploit the essential contribution that human rights can make to peace education, namely providing the basis for a prescriptive, holistic yet particularized approach that would make peace education not only more comprehensive, but also far more comprehensible. The actual human experiences that comprise much of human rights education are more readily understood than the theoretical and analytical content of peace education.

The conceptual core of peace education is violence, it's control, reduction, and elimination. The conceptual core of human rights education is human dignity, its recognition, fulfillment, and universalization. As I have argued elsewhere, human rights is most readily adaptable to the study of positive peace, the social, political and economic conditions most likely to provide the environment and process for social cohesion and non-violent conflict resolution. It is the contention of this essay that education for peace should be primarily perscriptive, and that human rights offers the most appropriate route through which to move from problem to prescription in all the various approaches to peace education. Positive peace, conceptualized by the peace research community to extend the definition of peace beyond the limitation avoidance or absence of war to include issues of justice, poverty, and freedom, is the concept of peace that is the foundational principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The inextricable relationship between human rights and peace is articulated in the very first sentence of the Preamble to the Declaration, ...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." Since the core and seminal document for all current standards of human rights, to which all members of the United Nations are assumed to assent, acknowledges this principle, surely education for peace should also do so. Certainly, both peace researchers and activists and human rights scholars and advocates can agree that violence in all its forms is terms an assault on human dignity.

Peace research now recognizes several particular forms of violence as the conceptual rubrics under which data are gathered and knowledge derived: physical or behavioral violence including war, and other uses of direct force to destroy or weaken or otherwise harm another nation, group or individual; structural violence that refers to the poverty and deprivation that results from unjust and inequitable social and economic structures. The political violence of oppressive systems that enslave, intimidate, and abuse dissenters as well as the poor, powerless and marginalized; and cultural violence, the devaluing and destruction of particular human identities and ways of life, the violence of racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, colonial ideology, and other forms of moral exclusion that rationalize, aggression, domination, inequity, and oppression. All of these forms of violence can be made most apparent and comprehensible within a human rights framework. Analyzing these forms of violence as violations of particular human rights standards provides a constructive alternative to presenting them as abstract concepts as is often the case in peace education. It is for just such reasons that some educators teaching in the fields of conflict resolution, multiculturalism, development education, and world order studies and a limited number of environmental educators are now integrating human rights issues and standards into their curricula as subject matter content, as perspectives for the development of critical capacities, and as areas for experiential learning. To each of these forms of peace education, human rights brings not only the element of concrete experience and observable social conditions but also a much needed normative and prescriptive dimension.

Each has acknowledged a concern with values formation and ethical decision-making processes that have been problematic in an educational system, somewhat ambivalent on the subject of values and ethics, alternately purporting to be value free and/or to encourage consideration of contending values and value systems, while in actuality conveying the unarticulated and unexamined prevailing values of the society, mainly ignoring the ethical questions imbedded in social issues. This confusion in education is readily reflected in thecontradictions in public policy, and the limited capacities of citizens to make policy judgments.

It will be contended below that each and all approaches to peace education can make a significant contribution to the clarification of this confusion and to the development of judgement making capacities through the integration of human rights content and perspectives....

Continued in Human Rights Education for the Twenty-First Century, edited by George J. Andrepoulos and Richard Pierre Claude (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).