A key action in promoting peace is education. Teachers are more than educators; they are mentors, event coordinators, monitoring and evaluation experts, curriculum specialists, conflict negotiators, administrators, and social change makers. One role of teachers that may be overlooked is that of a peacebuilder. With ongoing global conflict, it is imperative for teachers to expose their students to those global issues and incite motivation in their students to be advocates for peace, both in their local communities and globally.
The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) runs a year-long professional development program for select middle and high school teachers across the United States. The Peace Teachers adapt the USIP Peacebuilding Toolkit for Educators to create impactful lessons of peacebuilding in their classrooms, which range in subject from social studies to Spanish. The 2017 Peace Teacher cohort employs a variety of methods to teach peacebuilding in the classroom.
- Maria Eugenia Zelaya is a high school Spanish teacher in Gainesville, Florida. In her lower level Spanish classes, Maria has her students research peacebuilders and create a cuento de paz (peace story) for younger children. Each story must be written in both Spanish and English, have graphics, and have a positive ending that promotes peace.
- Ezra Shearer, a high school social studies teacher in Missoula, Montana, takes a more research-based approach. Ezra asks each of his students to examine a specific global conflict, focusing mostly on conflicts where USIP works. Students must go through the step-by-step process of conflict analysis, provided by the Peacebuilding Toolkit for Educators, and present recommendations to resolve the conflict.
- Vince Facione, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also asks his students to research one specific global conflict in his high school social studies class. Choosing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he creates a graphic organizer for students to answer several questions: 1) What do I know about the Arab-Israeli peacemaking process? 2) What are the sources of information? Are they reliable, or are they biased or fake news? 3) What do I want to learn more about? What do I want to gain a greater appreciation of?
- Amy Cameron, a high school English Literature teacher in Grandview, Missouri, created a mock United Nations. This experiential learning opportunity allows her students to understand how countries work together diplomatically to pursue peace. Amy provided some students in her class with a passport from a specific country, and other students are given the identity of a United Nations (UN) representative. Students given a passport are tasked with presenting their country to the panel of UN representatives in the hopes of being allowed to join the UN. Students experience firsthand the complexity of geopolitical relations, and they grapple with the strict criteria to join the UN. This means that they must demonstrate an understanding of how economics, politics, and human rights intersect.
Teachers have the ability to empower students to critically think about the influence of the U.S. in global conflicts, the role peacebuilders can play on a local and international level, and the importance of being engaged global citizens. While each of these teachers found unique and inspiring methods to bring global conflicts into the classroom, it does not take being an official “USIP Peace Teacher” to incorporate peace lessons into the curriculum. A motivated and inspired teacher can make small adaptations in their core curriculum that will make a huge impact in their students' lives.