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Teaching about peace - Educators help kids see value of global citizenship

My 4-year-old son was practicing yoga. Along with the DVD's instructor, he performed "the peace breath," breathing in and out the word "peace." The teacher said, "Let yourself feel the peace. Send peace to the animals who are endangered. Send peace to flowers, trees and plants. Send peace to your family and friends. Send peace to the people of the world."

If only this could be so simple. As many educators would say, teaching peace is urgent. In April 2006, The San Francisco Chronicle reported, "Today there are more than 30 wars under way -- about double the number that were being waged 50 years ago." Most of the fighting happens between rival ethnic groups, often with genocidal objectives. And just a few months ago, the Seattle community was touched by a shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, driving home the bitterness of global conflicts.

"Especially after 9/11, it has become very clear that we have very little knowledge of the other's traditions," says Jamal Rahman, Muslim Sufi Minister at the Interfaith Community Church in Ballard. "That is a huge problem, because when we don't have that, we fall prey to having conditioned stereotypes of the other."

How can we teach kids about peace, compassion and respect for people from other backgrounds? Seattle leaders say learning about peace begins in school and faith organizations such as church and synagogue -- and of course, at home. "Teaching peace is not just about stopping war. Teaching peace is a way to be a human being, finding your own center, because war is a reaction to fear, generally," says Daniel Kranzler, president of the Kirlin Charitable Foundation, which invests in programs that support early childhood learning and social-emotional development. "Most of the time that fear is within us."

For families who have the opportunity, travel serves as a gateway to a global perspective. Edmonds-based travel maven Rick Steves, author of 30 European travel books, says travel can help kids become citizens of the world. "Our world view as adults is shaped to a great extent by our world experience as we grow up," Steves says. "A child that has played with kids from different cultures is not threatened by or afraid of different lifestyles but finds them a fun way to carbonate our existence here. A child will also realize that others have ideals and traditions that are entirely different from ours. A child can learn that far-away people don't have the 'American dream' -- they have their own dream. And a child will understand how richly blessed we are from a material-wealth point of view."

If a family can't travel internationally, the next best thing might be exposure through a program called Bridges to Understanding, a local nonprofit organization that strives to not just teach kids about the world, but help them learn with the world. "Travel can sometimes be a transformative experience that (gives) the ability to be empathetic, to step into other people's shoes," says Bridges to Understanding Executive Director Greg Tuke. But because travel can be cost-prohibitive, "We think the way to start is in our schools, because schools touch the lives of most every child." There, kids can develop the "head and heart skills" -- the reasoning and the empathy -- "that helps create a peaceful, more just world."

Interactive, international learning

Tuke explains that Bridges to Understanding aligns its vision for interactive, international learning with teachers' existing curriculum. For example, ninth-graders at Nathan Hale High School studied nuclear proliferation from the perspectives of the countries who are most directly involved. In this case, the question pivoted around North Korea: "Should North Korea be allowed to have nuclear weapons?" For the project, Bridges located high school classrooms in Pakistan, India, Russia and Japan, and a class in Florida. Online, the students exchanged information to find primary-source material that would convey each country's perspective. The students in the various countries shared JPGs and audio files expressing the students' dialogues and opinions; hearing voices made the contact more real.

Jennifer Geist, a former foreign-language teacher who leads teacher-training workshops for Bridges to Understanding, says that such projects deliver "a double hit": the teachers receive the cultural exchange and cover their curriculum at the same time.

By connecting kids with their global peers, the program gives students the experience of virtual study abroad. In one project, Geist conducted a live video conference during which kids in Taiwan performed traditional Taiwanese drumming for third-and-fourth graders at John Muir Elementary School in Seattle. The concert was the culmination of months of teacher-guided classroom-to-classroom forum discussions online, as well as a teddy bear exchange with the theme "A Day in the Life." With this, the Seattle kids wrote about their daily lives through the eyes of two Ambassador Teddy Bears, named Lucky and Baby. They sent the bears to Taiwan, and the teddies shared in Taiwanese life.

At Washington Middle School, where a racially diverse student body is segmented by five distinct academic tracks, a week-long multidisciplinary project provided a unique opportunity to mix the school's 300 eighth-grade kids while exploring relevant themes of race, poverty and inequity. Dovetailing with the visit of six students and two teachers from South African townships, the project combined theatre performance with small-group discussions.

Driven by Bridges' International Program Manager Lori Markowitz, the project, called Worlds Apart, HEARTS Together, kicked off with the Book-It Theater's adaptation of Alan Paton's 1948 novel Cry the Beloved Country, a story of South Africa and apartheid, followed by dialogues on race relations, apartheid and tolerance. Geist explains that two key questions were: "What lessons can we learn from apartheid? And what lesson can these South African kids take away from us?"

The Bridges to Understanding staff has high hopes for its brand of peace education, particularly with regard to the ways technology can help bring us together. "Global education goes further than looking at the map," Markowitz says. "What we'd like to do is not just educate kids about the world but what they can do to make the world a better place."

The Dalai Lama connection

Just as Bridges to Understanding uses technology to link students across the world, the Kirlin Foundation -- which funds Bridges to Understanding -- envisions the Internet as a key means of teaching children about peace, and is working with the Dalai Lama to spread the word. Kranzler, Kirlin's president, describes His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize winner, advocate of non-violence, and Buddhist monk as "the single individual in the world who most represents care and compassion. His Buddhist teaching says that everything is related, everything I do affects something else in the world."

Kranzler says, "The Dalai Lama's view is: If we don't start acting on compassion between states, nationalities, people and families, what kind of example are we are setting for the young mind that develops -- or doesn't develop -- a concept of compassion?" The emergence of that value, along with 90 percent of brain development, happens in the first five years of life, Kranzler says. Consequently, Kranzler explains, the foundation plans to disseminate the messages of compassion and the interconnectedness of all things to the youth of the world beginning at birth.

To promote these ideas, the foundation is working with the Dalai Lama to develop a peace-themed curriculum in conjunction with his possible visit to Seattle in spring of 2008. In addition, Kirlin and the office of the Dalai Lama are developing a compassion-themed curriculum that will be available online to any teacher in the world. The materials will include lesson plans that help define compassion.

The Kirlin Foundation also supports a nonprofit called International Education and Resource Network (iEARN), an international nonprofit organization that connects more than 15,000 schools in 100 countries through Internet networks. In 2004, Paula Fraser of Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue attended an international teachers conference in Slovakia where she met two teachers from Israel -- one Jewish and one Arab. The teachers decided to form a three-way partnership, connecting their students while pursuing their social studies curriculum.

The project found Fraser and her fifth-graders in the role of cultural anthropologists. The classrooms communicated by email and exchanged "cultural artifact" boxes -- coffee cups and mini ferry boats from Seattle; honey and dates from Israel. While learning geography, history and economics together, the students gained insight into their counterparts' lives abroad. Fraser says, "Basically, we have learned despite our differences that kids have many common interests and passions." In addition to realizing that kids everywhere love pizza, the students learned, "The world is very small and it's filled with human beings trying to make the best of things, the way we are."

Resolving conflicts through dialogue

For Thayer Hastings, the context of an interconnected world came home with him for winter break. A student at the international boarding school, United World College (UWC), Hastings returned home to Seattle from school in New Mexico, accompanied by classmates from countries such as Uganda, Ghana and East Timor.

To UWC, Hastings brings the perspectives of a hyphenated background. "My mom is Palestinian and my dad is American," explains the 18-year-old, who was 10 years old when he came to this country and attended Nathan Hale High School for two years before UWC.

With 10 locations internationally, the college is part of an educational movement that brings together students from all over the world, regardless of their ability to pay. According to the college, "Students are selected on merit and live together in an environment designed to foster international understanding, tolerance and peace.... The shared experiences of living and working together in an intensive multicultural environment also do much to build international understanding."

With classmates from 88 countries, Hastings has learned about the life experiences of students from all over the world. After coming to UWC, he says, "You know people from everywhere in the world. You can't dehumanize (war) as much."

One of Hastings' classes, a program called Constructive Engagement of Conflict, teaches students principles of resolving conflict though dialogue. Lori Markowitz, who assists with the program, describes the course as "a time to process painful issues and stories, and particularly when you are coming from the third world, there are a lot of young people who carry burdens, even at a young age."

At one retreat where the 16- and 17-year-old students learned philosophies of the program, such as resolving conflict through nonviolence and respecting each person's truth, Markowitz says, "Israelis and Palestinians started (the session) yelling and at the end of the night ended up hugging each other. Bringing people face-to-face in a neutral environment, it works. I wish every young person could go though such an experience because it is transformative."

For Hastings, his UWC experience was a natural progression from another program, the Seattle-based Middle East Peace Camp (MEPC). Hastings participated as a CIT and as a counselor at the week-long camp, which was formed in 2002, following September 11th and the worsening situation in the Middle East, by a group of concerned mothers of diverse backgrounds (American and Arab Christian, Muslim and Jewish), including Markowitz. The founders were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's view: "If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children."

Each year, with sports, theater, arts and crafts, and nature activities, the camp engages about 100 local children from ages 5 to 12; counselors-in-training aged 13 to 15; and counselors aged 16 to 25 at a location kept private for security purposes. The constituency is Arab, Jewish and other interested children and families.

Hastings says that surprisingly, the campers get along very well. "You'd think that because of the history between the two people there would be more conflict, but with kids that isn't really a factor, and they treat everyone as equals." At Middle East Peace Camp, Hastings says, "I learned about peace but also acceptance and understanding. I learned that people can get along no matter what; if the kids can do it, then I'm sure the adults could too."

Respect for other traditions

The idea that peace begins with children also inspires an interfaith child care program for kids age 2 to teens at the Interfaith Community Church in Ballard. Explains Rahman, the Sunday program is based on teachings of Gandhi, who believed it is a sacred duty of every individual to have an appreciative understanding of other religions. While studying different religions, the children learn to respect other traditions and their own.

Similarly, for older teens and young adults, a partner program, Interfaith Voices of Youth (IVY), brings together young people age 14 to 20 for events and discussion. IVY's mission is: "To discover, understand and respect differences and diversity in order to seek reconciliation between cultures and faiths in order to provide a more dynamic learning environment in which expression and sharing are nurtured and encouraged...worldwide." The group consists of youth leaders who are Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Bahai and Quaker.

Youth Facilitator Keesha Ewers-Morris says the group is in the process of becoming an Internal Revenue Service-designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a national agenda: "Teaching teenagers how to talk to each other, break down barriers, listen, and build bridges, with the hope this next generation won't be so eager to drop bombs on each other before they talk."

Setting an example for children is key to teaching peace, Kranzler says. Speaking to the Kirlin Foundation's emphasis on early learning, he says that teaching peace to tots begins with helping toddlers and preschoolers understand their feelings. At age 4 and 5, parents can show compassion in action by taking kids to shelters and volunteering during Thanksgiving.

"If individuals just live their religion, that's a perfect model," Rahman adds. "If parents are living their faith, (not just talking) about universal values of compassion and awareness, children will absorb that. If they live it, and put compassion and awareness in action -- sincerely -- the children will model themselves after that."

Adds Kranzler: "There couldn't be a more important time to work on the idea of peace, and peace within, and connection. There are 7.5 billion people on this planet. You will be bumping into more people in 10 years. We have to think about how we want this world to be for our children."

Michelle Feder writes about a wide variety of subjects and has 4-year-old and 1-year-old sons.


Arabic Summer Camp
American Cultural Exchange is offering intensive language instruction in Arabic for children ages 6 to 12 at Olympic View School. The teacher is a native Arabic speaker. Students are immersed in the language and culture through storytelling, reading, writing, arts, crafts, plays, field trips, and multicultural events. Full or partial scholarships are based on financial need. For more information, contact Maka Janikashvili at 206-217-9644 or email her at

Bridges to Understanding
Bridges is an online classroom program connecting indigenous and urban children worldwide through digital storytelling and other media. Contact 206-275-3247, email or visit

Started in 1988, iEARN is the world's largest non-profit global network that enables teachers and young people to use the Internet and other new technologies to collaborate on projects that both enhance learning and make a difference in the world.

Interfaith Community Church
Located in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, at Northwest 62nd Street and 20th Avenue Northwest, the church hosts an Interfaith Children's Class Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.

The goal is to provide non-denominational, yet collaborative, spiritual education that teaches children that all humanity is part of the same human family. More information:

Rev. Karen Lindquist, 206-783-1618 or visit A partner program, Interfaith Voices of Youth, brings together young people age 14 to 20 for events and discussion. For more information, email or visit

The Kirlin Foundation
A Bellevue-based charitable foundation committed to serving the community "as a catalyst and innovative partner in positive social change."

Middle East Peace Camp
A week-long summer camp, the Middle East Peace Camp is a grassroots Arab and Jewish coalition dedicated to embracing our common humanity by empowering children and youth through education, recreation and leadership development.

Pike Market Child Care and Preschool

Located at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, the child care and preschool integrates an anti-bias philosophy throughout daily classroom life. More information: 206-625-0842 or

Snohomish County Peace Action Scholarships
Snohomish County Peace Action established a scholarship fund for local students who have recently graduated from high school and who hope to enroll at Edmonds Community College. Applicants must be recent high school graduates and have financial need. Visit the ECC Foundation Web site at in December or early January to complete an online application form. Deadline for submitting applications will be early April 2007.

Temple De Hirsch Sinai's Kesher program

In Hebrew, Kesher means "connections." The program for sixth- and seventh-graders, in their Bar/Bat Mitzvah year, has "a focus on teaching what it means to be a responsible member of the Jewish community, which we take to mean a responsible member of mankind," says Callie Souther, assistant director of education. Kesher exposes the students to other religious communities, such as St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle. Contact Souther at 206-351-7426 or visit

United World College
UWC-USA is a two-year, pre-university residential school dedicated to promoting international understanding among young people. The school is part of a worldwide movement that includes schools in countries such as Hong Kong, India, Italy and Swaziland. More information: call 505-454-4200, write to or visit


Teaching Peace: How to Raise Children to Live in Harmony - Without Fear, Without Prejudice, Without Violence by Jan Arnow

The PeaceFinder: Riley McFee's Quest for World Peace by Joan McWilliams. Includes a special section: "The Eight Steps to World Peace."

The Peace Book by Todd Parr

Peace Begins With You by Katherine Scholes

Recommended by Stevenson Elementary School teacher Paula Fraser: "Promises", a movie that provides an alternative look at the Middle East conflict by following seven Jewish and Palestinian children between 1995 and 1998.

Recommended by Interfaith Voices of Youth facilitator Keesha Ewers-Morris: Founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance provides educators with free educational materials that promote respect for differences and appreciation of diversity in the classroom and beyond. Web site offerings include: activities, resources and an e-newsletter.

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

How to be a Perfect Stranger. The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, Fourth Edition by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida. A guidebook that teaches about various religions' rituals and belief practices.

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