Social Education 58(7), 1994, pp. 433-444
National Council for the Social Studies

A Classroom Module on Peace-Building

Mary Eileen Sorenson
"What is your earliest memory of war? Of peace? When I ask these questions at workshops, answers vary, oftentimes because of age. There are childhood memories of a father returning home from World War II, bitterness because of a forgotten Korean War, memories of Vietnam that are of both war and peace, and a TV-charged Gulf War memory belonging to two seventh graders who could not recall a peace memory... ever.
War can be so clearly captured in pictures, words, and sounds. Pictures, words, and sounds of peace seem harder to identify and even more challenging to retain. What is peace? If we look at it as a verb rather than a noun, does peace become an energizing, motivating, personal, and collective power? Can peace-acting empower individuals, tribes, and nations? Can we live together in peace? Can we give peace a chance?

A Memory of Peace
My earliest memory of peace does have sounds, words, and pictures. It is the sound of many languages, the angry and conciliatory words of debate and compromise, and the pictures of blue helmets, 184 national flags, and national delegations assembling each fall in New York City to address the world's pressing issues. It is the United Nations.

Born in the ashes of World War II, the UN was the hope and beacon in a devastated world. Although often handicapped in the complex struggles emanating from the Cold War tensions, the UN potential remained. Today we see a resurgence of faith in this forum-a forum where all the peoples of the world can debate, negotiate, and be heard.

An Agenda for Peace
As UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros- Ghali reminds us, the "new" world needs to do more than maintain peace and prevent war. Our "new" world needs a new order, new structures of peace, designed, built, and maintained by those in the areas of past conflict.

Tirelessly, and often without recognition, the UN has worked to create a more peaceful world. Recently, Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, in a report to the UN Security Council, proposed a peace action plan, an Agenda for Peace.1 It is a plan that challenges the world community not only to work to end violence but to design structures that create and maintain peace.

A Classroom Module on Peace-Building
This plan forms the core of our curriculum module, The United Nations Peace Action Plan, Case Study: Cambodia. All of us, students and teachers, have to be empowered to build structures for peace wherever we find ourselves. Using a case study, the UN's recent efforts at peace-building in Cambodia, students explore the issues and practice the skills of peace-building.

It is our hope that young people learn of the UN peace efforts in Cambodia, an area of special interest to the people of the United States, whose painful memories of the Vietnam Era are still fresh. And we also offer opportunities to develop skills in preventing violence, and making, keeping, and building peace-skills that will empower them to be builders of peace in their own schools and neighborhoods as well as on a national and global level.

In the first three lessons, the students explore the nature and elements of peacemaking in their own lives, in their communities, and worldwide with special focus on the UN's unique role. In the next four lessons, students focus on Cambodia, its recent past of violence, terror, and war, and today's challenging efforts at peace. Through simulations and role-playing, they experience the demands, complexities, frustrations, and satisfaction of negotiation and diplomacy. The closure lesson has the students applying the peace action plan to other "hot spots" in the world.

The Challenge for Classroom Teachers
As I began to market this module, Bosnia exploded on our TV screens. War again has sounds, pictures, and words that penetrate our very being. The UN "peace" forces appear battered and helpless. And yet it is a world structure, as strong as its members' resolve, that embodies a fifty-year old dream for peace. The "hot spots" of today's world challenge and may ultimately change this structure.

But the need for peace-building remains. And the need to model peace skills in our classrooms is even more pressing. Tomorrow's diplomats are in our classrooms of today.

Do we allow them opportunity to practice preventive diplomacy? Do we teach them the language and words of civility, of respect, of understanding, and of empathy?

Do we encourage peacemaking? Are there time-outs, pauses, reflection when there are tensions among students? Do we identify safe and secure places to "be" so that conflict can be addressed?

Do we work with students at peacekeeping? To what extent are students partners in creating the rules, the rights, and the responsibilities of their learning environments? In what way are we facilitators in their development as self-learners?

And finally, do we work together with our students in peace-building. To what degree are our learning environments designed to create and maintain cooperation, collaboration, and compromise?

This is what our module The United Nations Peace Action Plan, Case Study: Cambodia is all about. This is what Secretary Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace is all about. And this is what the pictures, words, and sounds of peace will be about in the twenty-first century if we do our job today.

Mary Eileen Sorenson is the Education for Peace Project Director of the UNAssociation of Minnesota. She was formerly Executive Director of the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies.