Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Professor Charles Howlett,
Molly College, New York, Author of “Books Not Bombs: Teaching Peace Since the Dawn of the Republic”
Howlett: There was an individual by the name of Elihu Burritt who the late Pulitzer Prize winning historian referred to as the “learned blacksmith of the mid-19th century.” He was not educated formally, but he managed to master about 40 languages. He established a program called The League of Universal Brotherhood as well as the Olive Leaf Society as part of his own crusade to educate the American public and people across the pond in Europe about the importance of international diplomacy. He was more about people diplomacy and he also was very much involved with educating and calling attention to the importance of the laboring masses as a vehicle or instrument for peace. He strikes me as one of the most interesting figures of the 19th century in terms of peace education.
Ingles: What historical events would have been motivating him in his time on earth?
Howlett: That’s a very good question. I think in large measure, the experience of the War of 1812, the conflict with the United States and Mexico in the 1840s, I think in part he was a product of the beginning of the organized peace movement in American history and he sought to advance it largely through his own individual efforts. I think more importantly, he understood that a democratic society is one that is based on understanding and cooperation.
Ingles: Let’s move somewhere else on the timeline and tell us a little bit more about another figure or moment in peace studies history.
Howlett: Alright, absolutely. One of my favorites of course is America’s beloved Jane Adams. I think most students are familiar with Jane Addams and the Hull House Movement, but more importantly, Jane Adams was the first American female to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize which she had to share with Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler.
Ingles: So where are we on the timeline here Chuck?
Howlett: We are in the late 1800s, the early 1900s, right around the time of WWI when there was a movement in America called the Progressive Reform Movement. In 1907, Addams wrote a very influential work called The Newer Ideals of Peace.
Now in large measure, most people argue that pacifism, that concept of non-violence is passive in nature. She sought to radicalize it, change its perception and say that it is an active ideology, not one that is passive, not reactionary, but proactive and in large measure, her ideas influenced the creation of what’s called the Modern American Peace Movement which originated around the time of WWI.
She became an instrumental figure in promoting the importance of women in the peace crusade.
Ingles: And again, we’re still talking about what some would think of as social or political movements here, not necessarily making peace studies something that is brought into children’s lives or students’, is that right?
Howlett: That’s correct, absolutely. Our next figure, I think, is one where we could argue that he did make a very serious attempt to bring it into the public school system and that was the philosopher and educator John Dewey which most Americans are familiar with.
My colleague at Molloy College, Audrey Cohan and I have just completed a book on John Dewey called John Dewey: America’s Peace-Minded Educator and it will be published by Southern Illinois University Press.
After WWI, and what we should remember is, Dewey was a very strong supporter of WWI. He supported President Woodrow Wilson’s progressive idealism of trying to make the world safe for democracy and a war to end all wars, however the farriers at the Treaty of Versailles caused him to reexamine his position.
In 1923, he wrote a very influential article that I argue and Audrey and I argue, that really set the tone for future educators to begin to think of ways of introducing peace education or peace studies in the public school system. The article is called The Schools as a Means of Developing a Social Consciousness and Social Ideals in Children and what he argued is that history, literature and geography should be taught in schools from a global perspective and that the two instruments of peace are the people, not the diplomats.
Ingles: And how was that received at the time? How was it different than history was being taught in schools at that time?
Howlett: Well of course there was a pushback by patriotic groups, but we also have to consider too that after WWI, there was a great deal of disillusionment, so there was a receptive audience.
What was so keen in terms of understanding Dewey’s position is that he argued that democracy is not a political concept, but rather it’s a cultural and social one and its true design is to promote understanding and mutual respect among communities and that what the public schools needed to do was to interject that to bring that into the school system to build a community through democratic understanding and then extend it to the global and international level. That was the thrust of his ideology at the time.
Ingles: Did he get any traction at the time in terms of public education responding to these thoughts?
Howlett: Well, they did it in an interesting way. In the 1920s, there was a very popular movement to outlaw war as an instrument of national policy. It was first introduced by a Chicago lawyer named Salmon Levinson whose wife was a student of Dewey’s at the University of Chicago. Now in the 1920s, this movement picked up a lot of steam and Dewey became the chief intellectual spokesperson or spokesman for this movement and it did culminate in the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact or what was called in Europe, “The Pact of Paris.”
Subsequently, the public schools throughout the country began promoting the idea of [outlawing war]. They had essay contests, they have posters. This was a meaningful movement within the public school system to educate children about the importance of ending war, of making war illegal.
Unfortunately, the diplomats, as Dewey criticized, didn’t put much stock in it and even though some 52 signatories were signed on by other nations, Japanese aggression in Manchuria and subsequently the rise of fascist and totalitarian powers in Europe put that to bed or put it to rest so to speak.
Ingles: In general, did the concept of peace studies take a hit as it were because of the war years in the mid part of the century?
Howlett: Yes and they always do. David Kennedy, a noted historian at Stanford University, wrote a book a number of years ago called over here and it discussed the role of the schools in American society during WWI. He referred to them as “seminaries of patriotism.”
Ingles: Throughout the story of peace studies programs and movements, does it seem that we have to be on the brink of war or in war or just out of war to get people to be interested in creating funding and filling peace study programs?
Howlett: Well, I think that’s an excellent question and I think the answer, at least from my perspective, is that it’s out of war when most people feel more comfortable dealing with the issue.
Ingles: So at the tail end, but not during generally?
Ingles: Dr. Howlett, you cite the Vietnam War years as the genesis of enthusiasm and development of peace studies curricula in schools, particularly on college campuses. Let’s review why and how that happened.
Howlett: Well, I think in large measure, it might have been generated through the teachings that began at the University of Michigan in 1964 I believe, ’65. I think there was a changing [inaudible] in American society. We all know about the hippie generation and the countercultural rebellion, in large measure, the dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War encouraged university professors to examine ways to introduce peace history and peace studies into the curriculum. It became somewhat of a sub-discipline much like you had women’s studies, you had African-American studies and so peace studies and peace history became a popular sub-discipline within the university level.
Ingles: What, in your opinion, happened to the idea of peace and peace studies in those years? You write that it also was a time when peace was associated with revolution, anti-patriotism, anarchy, trouble in general. How did that happen?
Howlett: Well, that goes back even to the 1920s. There was an attempt by peace groups to challenge the role of the creation of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on college and it’s easy to label someone as a subversive who may be for peace or who questions the role of the military in society. Again, I repeat, I’m a veteran. I am not a pacifist, but historically, in looking at this, many of these people I have to admit Paul are well intentioned. These pacifists are well-intended patriotic Americans. They’re not communists. They’re not radicals or subversives in the context of overthrowing the American way of life. They believe sincerely in a community in a democratic society that’s based on understanding and cooperation without violence.
Ingles: Dr. Howlett, where do you see the progress of peace studies at this point in history? What’s happening today? I’m sure you’re following that as well as having followed it throughout history.
Howlett: Alright, well Paul, it’s there, but how influential it is is another question. It remains viable. It remains important. But I think the dynamics of our society – there are so many other competing interests that it hasn’t really risen to have a very strong foothold within the American consciousness, however I would add that there are some very viable academic organizations and they are very active academically.
The bigger issue really, I think, that we face in terms of the public school system is very simple as I mentioned earlier. The prize-winning historian Merle Curti, the biggest problem we have he said is what to do when the values of peace are in apparent conflict with decency, humanity and justice. That’s the challenge and that remains the challenge for us as a democratic society.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with teacher Mitchell Rekow, school psychologist Leverett Millen and West Mesa High School graduates Alex Trujillo and Victoria Tercero, all associated with The Peace Club and the effort to bring a Peace Studies class to West Mesa High School in Albuquerque.
Ingles: What’s the crystalized goal of bringing this to the high schools?
Mitchell Rekow: We really want to start a discussion about peace, about conflict, both on a personal level and on a wider level. The personal is of course connected to the global and we like to focus on both. Just having that discussion I think is so important because you just don’t hear that in most environments, in most places and venues in our society.
The way education is so often done doesn’t allow for a lot of that. There is such a push for just teaching the core standards, teaching what we’re supposed to be teaching and getting it all done and crossing all your t’s and checking all your boxes, but there is so much more than that and I think our world desperately needs it.
So the discussion itself is the most valuable part of it and really is what I see as our goal.
Leverett Millen: I think that if we don’t teach about non-violence, someone is going to be teaching about violence, so we have to teach our students about alternatives and that a peaceable society is possible. One of the most striking things that I remember is students saying to me after a Peace Club meeting is, “How come we didn’t get this in school?”
Ingles: Throughout the establishment of the Peace Club in 2009 and this effort to bring a peace studies curriculum to West Mesa, what have been the obstacles? What have been the opponents? Have there been people saying, “No, not a good idea”? What are they saying? Is that true?
Millen: The obstacles to the program have been people who have other jobs and responsibilities and just getting the time and the effort to pull together the resources to do the curriculum proposal.
I did have one interaction with a teacher who was the head of the program that was guiding students towards Sandia National Laboratories and she got very upset with me. I said, “Did you have any conflicts about having students work with their weapons of mass destruction?” She got very, very angry and she wrote a letter to the principal, which is in my file and I’m very proud of it. She said that “There is something wrong with that guy. He has a lot of anger towards weapons of mass destruction and it’s very upsetting.”
Ingles: Alex and Victoria, tell me a little bit more about something looking back now. You’re out of West Mesa High School, but as you’re making your way in your lives, can you think of a time where you had something come up that made you think about Peace Club and said, “Yeah, okay, this is a chance for me to apply this notion, this conversation, this resolution strategy”?
Victoria Tercero: It definitely made me understand that there are people in this world that are just mean. You shouldn’t treat them meanly just because you feel hurt about something. It helps me understand that people have their own opinions, they have their own morals and that’s just the way it is right now. You can either keep quiet or you can stand up for what you believe in and if people don’t like it, that’s not really your problem. You just have to keep doing you.
Ingles: “Keep doing you.”
Ingles: How do people get mean?
Tercero: I’m a waitress and I’ve worked in the food industry for about two years now and people can get pretty grouchy when they’re hungry. The best thing you can do is just smile and kill them with kindness.
Ingles: Okay. I was thinking about that. You work in a restaurant, how do you mediate conflict at the table with a difficult customer?
Tercero: I try to be very nice. If I made a mistake, I’ll apologize. Usually people will see that you’re sorry, but if they’re still really angry, (we will get people who are really angry) the manager comes out. We’ll both talk to them, apologize and if it fixes it, great, but sometimes they just leave angry.
Alex Trujillo: I’ve noticed that when I come across a situation that I don’t agree with that’s happening within the schools – I wasn’t involved in it personally, but like the testing protesting.
Ingles: This was the extensive testing programs which are in all schools in New Mexico were having students take?
Trujillo: Yes. I still have a lot of friends in high school. They were all in younger lower grades than I was and so they were affected by it and they were like, “We’re just going to walk out of class. We’re not going to go.” I was thinking; that’s not the way to do it. Not only are you hurting yourselves, but you’re not proving your point. It brought me back to Peace Club and how we made the petition and sent it in and that was able to accomplish something more than walking out of a class. It’s in situations like that that I think back to Peace Club and think; how can we do it in a more peaceful manner. Maybe not necessarily even peacefully, but just more effectively.
Ingles: So Mitchell, when you’re hearing some of these conversations, what does it make you think about the best case scenario for a peace club or a peace studies curriculum to help developing minds?
Rekow: I’m glad to hear these stories first of all because it was a few years ago that we were together in the Peace Club and just that Alex and Victoria remember these things about the Peace Club and that they are applying, in some way or another, what we talked about or what they learned in their lives today.
Millen: It feels like I made a difference in their lives and that they are blossoming and doing things. They’re leading healthy lives. It is really a pleasure to be a part of that knowing that I was a part of that experience.
Ingles: Mitchell Rekow, last word, something else that is important for us to hear about this whole idea and effort.
Rekow: One thing that we haven’t talked about that came out of the Peace Club was an initiative to start a community garden and this had to do with our ideas around community engagement and making something tangible out of what we were talking about and since then, we’ve woven gardening into the curriculum for some of our programs at West Mesa. We’ve had over one dozen teachers and hundreds of students become involved in gardening.
Ingles: How is gardening a peace topic?
Rekow: Gardening in so many ways is a peace topic. Gardening, of course we’re growing food, nutritious food that a lot of our students are not eating or not eating enough of and we are empowering students to do something to help themselves, to help each other, their families, the community. We are creating beauty on our campus.
Trujillo: May I add something to that?
Ingles: Sure Alex, go ahead.
Trujillo: Another way which I really think that gardening integrates with peace is gardening takes time and effort and you have to be willing to be patient and let something grow. You can’t rush it with words or actions, it just has to grow and you have to be willing to grow with it, nurture it and help it and that shows you what we should be doing with conflicts as well. You have to be willing to be patient to see something through, to see it mature into something beautiful.
Ingles: Peace takes time.
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Jamie Bianchini, author of “A Bicycle Built for Two Billion”
Ingles: I want to nudge you to try to get in touch with one of the personal stories that you especially remember that changed you or moved you emotionally or paints a good picture of why this was an important adventure for you and for anybody else who wants to read about it.
Bianchini: I would say one of the pivotal stories that changed me forever as a man, as a Peace Traveler was when we were in Shiyan China and we were just ready to go up into the Himalayas and really excited, really proud and then, out of nowhere, someone stole one of the bikes in broad daylight and we were only in country 3 of 80. We were devastated. Everyone told us; “You’re never going to get your bikes back. It’s gone. In China bikes are stolen all the time and they’re never recovered.” But we were also completely determined to continue the ride, so we knew we had to find the bike and we knew the only way to find the bike was to get the help of the local people; people who we didn’t know, who didn’t speak our language, who were from other cultures, different religions, we didn’t care. We needed their help. We were able to get the word out through newspapers, through flyers and all sorts of word of mouth and we were able to have the people of Shiyan to find the bike and the police ended up finding the bike and it was just a beautiful story of humankind, just human beings taking time out of their day to help a stranger. That continued to carry on all through Asia to the point that I realized that, for the most part, all human beings, we’re all the same and it changed me forever and the way I was going to make the expedition go down.
Ingles: We’ve talked quite a bit about how it changed you. What convinced you that it was making an impact of any substance on many of the people that you were spending time with?
Bianchini: I just know that there are many people who said it was the best day of their life and it was the best experience of their life, even if it was a smaller ride through, I knew that we elevated people by their smiles, by their energy and we knew that those people would take that energy and that experience with an American stranger back to their homes and back to their communities and whether it was going to create any huge lasting peace, that little small droplet? I can’t tell. I just know that we raised the energy and frequency in the communities that we rode through and the people who were following our travels, our growing newsletter list and website viewers and things like that, that was more people from the modern world and those people often got very inspired and we inspired lots of different projects and different trips and people to do some really exciting things. That kept me going.
Ingles: I want to hear a little bit about the development of what I’ll call the “giving back” programs that you initiated. Tell me a little bit about that part of the project.
Bianchini: Well, as I said, it all started with this intention to make a difference in the world. That’s why Peace Travelers started and then all the compassion that was given back to me by strangers inspired me to look what I could give back to the communities that were embracing me and protecting me very much. I didn’t have any money to give people, a whole bunch of money, but I had education and I had skills and I knew my gifts that I had and they were to organize and create, so I helped people create in their own communities various projects. I help just with the intention to be of service. We just donated 100 bikes out in South Africa to a township, brought malaria medication out through a bunch of different villages throughout the African continent and these were things that were just spawned by me being inspired to serve the communities that were taking such good care of me. It really all started from being so cared for and so nurtured even though I was a total stranger in a foreign land.
Ingles: So in the case where you donated bikes, you didn’t have 100 bikes to donate out of nowhere. How did that story close out?
Bianchini: That was with a South African guest rider. Her name is Vanessa and she wanted to come for an extended ride with me. Her parents immigrated out of South Africa because of Apartheid and so she never got a chance to know her own country and so she wanted to go back. We both agreed we should first bless it with a big dose of love, so we went out and raised money by selling bracelets, “Live Big, Give Big” bracelets. That was the theme of Africa; “Live Big, Give Big,” and we sold enough bracelets to buy 100 bikes and have them delivered by us to a township in Khayelitsha in South Africa. That’s how that story ended, very positively. It kicked off the tour of Africa with a big kiss.
Ingles: This adventure obviously tickles the imagination I’m sure of a lot of our listeners. I’m sure a lot of them are saying, “That was really bold and courageous and peaceful, but I could never do that.” What application do you think this story, your story, can have to people who will never go around the world asking people to ride on the back of their bike?
Bianchini: I think the biggest thing is the core of all of this came from passion, whether it’s bike riding, whether it’s music, whether it’s art, whatever it may be, movies, I think everybody has passions and this project was founded by passion and it was my passion for biking, my passion for travel and then my passion to mix that together with some way to make a positive difference out in the world. I think anybody can do something in their lifetime that’s meaningful that’s big and that’s just taking a leap by blending that passion in with it, with the desire to do something meaningful and important out in the world. You don’t have to go around the world. You don’t have to ride a tandem bike, but I think anybody can do that. It’s just a matter of facing the fears and being aware of what role fear plays in our lives and overcoming those.
Ingles: It sounds like you’re saying it’s an act of peace to pursue your passion and apply your passion to some sort of larger good pursuit.
Bianchini: If possible, yes. I think most people who are able to understand this recording or are able to hear this, if they’re educated in English, they’re likely blessed in that they have an education and that they have so many gifts that the majority of the world’s population doesn’t have. If we are part of that fortunate group of people, I believe that one of the greatest gifts that we have is to give back and to help alleviate suffering and increase happiness in the world. I believe if I took anything from this trip it is that the most satisfaction that I’ve gotten in my life was when I was in a state of giving and a state of contributing and a mindset of what can I do out in the world besides just me. The most suffering that I’ve had in my life was when I was too selfish and was thinking too much about me and didn’t have that heart open to make a difference. I believe that if people were to give that a try that they would be pleasantly surprised with what they can do with it and how enjoyable it is not only for the other people that are receiving the gifts, but for you, the person who created that gift to mankind.