by Melinda Salazar, Ph. D.                         Published in The Change Agent — September 2005

The Forgotten Decade of Peace

In 1998, three years before the bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United Nations General Assembly anticipated the opening of the 21st century with an eye turned toward peacemaking. 2000 was proclaimed the International Year for a Culture of Peace, and the following ten years would mark the Decade for a Culture of Peace. Against a backdrop of violence in the Middle East, genocide in Africa, and indigenous struggle in Latin America, members of civil society throughout the world courageously worked to change how people think and act in order to promote peace. Yet, with the 9/11 discourses that have pervaded our national climate, teachers know little about the UN 2000-2010 Decade for a Culture of Peace. Why would we? US foreign policy—a war in Afghanistan, an unprecedented pre-emptive war with Iraq—and our domestic policies—restricted civil liberties, continued dependence on foreign oil, slashed social programs to pay for our billion dollar wars—certainly aren’t promoting peace. Who would ever guess such a global initiative for peace was underway? 

In an attempt to remember the forgotten Decade of Peace, a colleague and I collaborated to organize a conference for educators, students, and community activists in New Hampshire titled, “Teaching Peace” in early April 2005. Our aim was to support teachers in teaching peace, especially in a time of war, by providing a wide range of workshops on what peace scholars identify as educating for “negative” peace and “positive” peace. Distinguishing between these two positions, or worldviews, provides teachers with an opportunity to reflect on how they define peace. 

Curricula for negative peace consider the prevention of war and teach conflict resolution and mediation skills. Unquestionably, these are important skills to develop and are a part of building a Culture of Peace. Educating for positive peace, on the other hand, goes deeper into eliminating the root causes of violence, promotes values and transformation at the individual and collective levels, and emphasizes social and ecological justice and human rights-based education. 

As the conference designers and hosts, we took risks. A Pueblo Elder once said, “You will need to be strong, for you will be called cowards and traitors. But it is an act of courage to choose sanity and peace when others are choosing hate and war.”  How would a Teaching Peace conference be perceived as “supporting the troops?” What did it mean that our event overlapped with the commemoration of a graduate who tragically died earlier that year in training at West Point and in whose name students and cadets were together raising funds for a scholarship? 

The strong positive response from over one hundred participants, including presenters, teachers, community members, and students, took us pleasantly by surprise. The Teaching Peace conference restored hope, provided skills, and modeled new behavior. One teacher said, Teaching Peace “reminded me that I have ability to center units around peace even when I’m surrounded by students who are bombarded by a ’patriotic’ media.” 

The conference also provided a place where teachers committed to peace education felt “personal support and hope,” and connection to others doing the same work. It emboldened others to consider “infusing peace curricula in all content areas.” The Teaching Peace conference affirmed for teachers the appropriateness of anti-war critical analysis and non-violent skill building, and invited teachers to educate for life-promoting values in the classroom. 


Melinda Salazar, Ph. D. teaches at the Oyster River High School and for the Women’s Studies Program at the University of New Hampshire. She lives with her husband and dog in New Hampshire, where their five adult children occasionally return. 


Teaching Peace One Student at a Time

By Katherine Morgan, M. Ed.                   Published in The Change Agent — September 2005

When I asked my students, “Do you think there is a connection between peace in your life and world peace?” answers ran the gamut. On one end were answers like: “No, I don’t think a single individual has much power with peace. Evilness (sic) and destruction and hatred can be started by one person, but peace doesn’t seem to work that easy.” At the other end of the spectrum, a student wrote: “I would have to say yes, because I think that everyone’s self peace adds up to world peace. If we want to achieve world peace then we have to do it one person at a time. World peace isn’t just most people, it means everyone. So I think everyone contributes to it.” Many students were skeptical that peace in their own lives had any effect on world peace. We probably could have spent the rest of our semester-long peace course discussing the range of views expressed on this subject alone.

To further explore the concept that peace begins in our own lives, we read Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, from which we learned many ways to be peaceful and spread peace to others. My favorite quote from that book is one I used frequently with students as we moved through the first few weeks of class: “Let peace begin with me. Let me begin with peace.”

This year, we had a graphic illustration of how that works in real life. A student brought in an article about the UN International Day of Peace, which was a few days away on September 21st. The class wanted to mark that day in some way. We made a huge banner proclaiming the day and hung it in the cafeteria. We arranged for the school community to observe a moment of silence at noon to think about peace. The moment we hung the banner in the cafeteria, other classes and individual students began to get involved. Social studies classes made paper patchwork quilts with a peace theme which were hung in the hallway; another teacher hung a peace flag in the hall and wrote up a handout for students focusing on conflict resolution. Other students made banners in French and Spanish proclaiming the International Day of Peace, hung them in the hallway, and invited students to write their thoughts about peace on the banners. Two students asked if they could pass out white ribbons for armbands on September 21st and nearly every student and faculty wore their white ribbons that day. For my students, the concept that “peace begins with me” took on new meaning.

At the end of the class, one student wrote: “I used to think that the only way peace would be possible would be to rally behind our government to change. Now, I have realized that while this is important, it is not the only thing that we should be doing. We all need to step out from behind our government and make individual efforts to make connections with other individuals from the global community. Once we take the creation of peace back into our own hands, peace will finally become a possibility.” I like to think that each of my students leaves the class with the idea that they can take the creation of peace back into their own hands, and that gradually, one student at a time, we can create a more peaceful world.


Katherine Morgan teaches English and Peace Studies at Oyster River High School in Durham, NH. She is a founding co-organizer of an annual “Teaching Peace” conference for educators.


Discussion Questions

1. To what extent can your classroom be a model of peaceful interaction? What should it look like?

2. Do you think there is a connection between peace in your life and world peace?

3. Why do some people respond to violence with love and compassion while others respond with violence?