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New York City
September 2003

Children Build a Culture of Peace in a Complex World

by Michelle Accorso

In John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance, there were some very distinct sounding voices singing along with him as he pleaded with the world to listen to what he was saying. They weren’t famous recording stars, they weren’t even famous…they were just children. The message was simple— “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Today the message is still simple. However, conveying a simple plan to people is not always easy.

The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Peace Forum Building a Culture of Peace for the Children of the World held recently at Columbia University was once again a refrain that sometimes children have a better grasp on what’s going on than we do. Amidst posters from all over the world portraying people’s lives and hardships during violent times, were children’s personal drawings and paintings describing what peace meant for them.

“I was very touched and moved by the children’s art exhibit in general. I paid particular attention to the children’s art, as I never have before. I perceived within the lives of these young children, that were expressing themselves through their art, a very strong desire for peace. This is actually, I think, the building block or foundation for a peaceful world in the future,” said Tony Kolens, New York City artist and member of SGI. “I think the exhibit itself is really about the reality that in order to build a peaceful world, we have to begin with the children. We must instill or nurture the desire for peace among the children.”

That nurturing must, of course, start with the adults and the most effective way to accomplish this task is by starting in the classroom. “When it comes to truly implementing the concept of non-violence, non-aggression and a peaceful means of resolving problems, the honest answer to that is we haven’t figured it out”, said Nel Noddings, Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University and author of The Challenge to Care in Schools. “There are many fine programs about non-violence, but most of them are taught at the elementary and middle-school level, so we are trying to start to incorporate these programs more in high schools.” Noddings believes it is the emphasis so strongly placed on standardized testing and academics that cause high schoolers to lack the knowledge needed to build a peaceful foundation for the future. “I think every course should incorporate teaching peace. Before I did my graduate work in philosophy I was a math teacher and if it can be done in math, it can be done anywhere. You have to put a high priority on it.” The Challenge to Care in Schools is just one book Noddings suggests as an aid for busy teachers who are interested in shaping young impressionable students into sensitive, open-minded adults.

“There has to be a concerted effort in teacher training and collaboration in school systems. We have to begin asking and advocating the revived aims act,” said Noddings. “What is the aim of education? Some people just suppose that the aim is to get by with the best possible marks, get into the best possible college to get the best possible job to make the most possible money and buy lots of stuff…and there has to be more to it than that.”

There absolutely is more to it than that. As the exhibit pointed out, “Everything that is needed to build a culture of peace already exists in each of our hearts.” Some of these barriers and roots of the problem as to why we don’t currently have peace include nuclear negativity, the illusion of ‘efficiency,’ prejudice and stereotyping, environmental irresponsibility, poverty, isolationism and greed.

Dean Lawrence Edward Carter of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia said, “Perhaps the reason why the Soka Gakkai International, the leading spiritual peace community on the planet, is not well-known is because they don’t preach, they practice.”

“The government cannot give us peace,” he said, “Peace begins within. It is up to each of us as individuals to affect the scales of good versus evil. Your next act, decision and choice is the only way to tip the scale toward a lasting and just peace.” Paraphrasing one of the quotes in the exhibit Carter said, “Since wars begin in the minds of human beings, it is in the minds of humans that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

If only we could hold on tighter to that inner-child in all of us, we wouldn’t have to worry about creating wars.

“Consciousness is all-important,” said Carter. “Our unveiling of the Culture of Peace exhibit is the best anniversary we can inaugurate for the mental skies of the children of the world in this global season of terror and war.”#


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