Return to State College Friends School, State College, PA, 4/28: Letting Youth Define Peace

By: David J. Smith, April 28, 2017

I was pleased to  return to State College Friends School to work with about twenty 6th, 7th, and 8th graders today. This was my second visit, having visited in March 2016.

In considering notions of peace with younger students, I have started to take a more elicitive approach.   Peace is not “self-defining” of course, and many contest its meaning and significance.   With youth, letting them explore their own notions, and discuss and listen among themselves encourages an experiential approach to learning.  To this end, I engaged in several activities with them.

I started off by talking about people who might be working for peace and what they do. Using my son Lorenzo who is in the Peace Corps in Namibia as example, I talked about how individuals can give of themselves for others to accomplish important goals.   Was this the work of peace? (I was impressed that most students knew where Namibia was on a world map).

I then showed them a series of photos and graphics asking them to describe what they saw and define whether it was peace or not.  The photos included depictions of bullying (which was interpreted by one student as a supportive conversation), a person in a military uniform carrying a child (here a student asked whether he had forcibly taken the child), and a young child praying, as well as other photos.   Students were not of one mind as to the whether each image was peace or not.

Students working on their peace signs

I then engaged in the “Peace Not Peace” activity.   This activity involves putting two signs on walls to the far ends of a room: one stating “Peace” and the other “Not Peace.” Students were asked to move to the sign that most reflected their feelings about a situation.  The first one was: you and your sibling are fighting over the TV, and your dad or mom shows up and says they will settle it by watching what they want.   For some students, this was peace because more serious fighting was averted.  But for others, this wasn’t peace because dad or mom “took over” the situation in a forceful way.  There was no consensus, but students seemed to understand the nuances of peace.

For my final activity, I had then create a contemporary peace sign (I did this with them last year).   After the explaining to them the history of the traditional peace sign/symbol, I asked each student to pick an issue of importance (in the case of the traditional sign, it comes from opposition to nuclear weapons), and make a new sign.   Then I had each student explain their sign to the others.  Students created signs that focused on a range of issues including the environment, LGBTQ rights, war/peace, women’s rights, and refugees.

At the end, I never defined peace for them.   Each student came to their own interpretations and values.   Even at this age, young people tend to figure it out.

Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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