Students walk out of Catonsville High School to protest gun violence in Catonsville on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Video by Jen Rynda / BSMG
On March 24, students around the country will be marching in protest to gun violence in schools (“House passes first school violence bill since massacre, but gun limits not included,” March 15). I congratulate and thank them for their initiative in taking a stand and demonstrating to adults that in a democracy the voice of the people must be heard. Others are following their lead and organizing other actions in solidarity with them. Still others are calling on Congress to pass commonsense gun legislation.
These are good and necessary actions; however, they are not enough. As a long time educator steeped in peace and active nonviolence education, I see the issue of gun violence as symptomatic of something much larger about which we need to have honest and substantial national dialogue. Laws are not enough; they do not get at the root. As a nation, we must ask and answer some very challenging questions: What happens to people whose nation has been at war for the last 17-plus years? Why is our response to violence more violence as if adding fuel to a fire will extinguish it? What has caused us to live in such mortal fear that we feel the need to carry weapons? Why do we have 954 active hate groups in the U.S. today? What is missing from our lives that has brought us to these violent times?
Coleman McCarthy, founder and director of the Center for Teaching Peace and adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, wrote in Essays on Nonviolence that “If peace is what every government says it seeks, and peace is the yearning of every heart, why aren't we studying it and teaching it in schools?” In his book, “I’d Rather Teach Peace,” he quotes from a paper of one of his students which I pass on for its refreshing insight and wisdom: “Question: Why are we not illiterate, but violent? Answer: Because we’ve been taught to read!” These two McCarthy quotes support my case that peace and active nonviolence must be integrated into the curriculum of every school beginning in kindergarten and continuing through required courses in college.
This is the prevention piece, far more effective than remediation. I’m not advocating the use of a particular peace studies curriculum, or that the same one must be used by an entire district. But I’m advocating that the one chosen be firmly based on respect and put into practice by the entire school family. Respect is caught as well as taught. That means providing training for administration, faculty, staff and students as well as parents is critical thus creating a culture of peace in the school. Respect is spiritual in nature, not denominational, which allows it to find a home in all venues and all circumstances. It means being taught to see differently, to see others as sisters and brothers, as potential friends, having the same needs, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows as I have. It means learning to listen to more than the spoken word. Seeing and listening this way is aided by the practice of mindfulness which in turn calls one to slow down and calm down!
When this kind of respect becomes the atmosphere in which life is lived, the ground is ready for peace to grow. Please note that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to handle it respectfully.