Gopher Peace and the Peace Rangers

Last year I took a wonderful Peace Education course led by a fabulous educator and advocate for nonviolence. At the end of the semester she gave each of the class participants a gift of a peace education resource that can be used with elementary and middle-school aged children. Published by Peace Education International, the Gopher Peace workbook series provide students with a wealth of wonderful, interactive games and activities all aimed at promoting peaceful thinking and behavior. The workbooks include self-esteem building activities, word and math problems that once solved reveal important messages about how to treat others, exercises that reveal our own prejudices, games that help us identify violent behavior, crossword puzzles that help us identify “feeling” words, and picture games that help us become familiar with body language messages. In addition to activity books for students, Gopher Peace and the Peace Rangers also has a resource book for teachers which includes lesson plans that help students promote peace within their classroom. The lesson plans help teachers learn how to create a safe classroom container, and then provide a wide variety of activity ideas. Lessons include learning about how families show and receive love, what qualities make someone a friend, how to identify bullying behaviors, how to identify feeling words and the ways that our bodies communicate information, and how to communicate anger without using violence. As the lesson plans progress, they venture into more complex understandings of peace and conflict resolution tools such as the classroom “Peace Table” where children bring themselves when a conflict arises between peers. The teacher and students become familiar with and tolerant of other cultures, explore personal meanings of peace and war, and study influential peacemakers such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Carl Sagan. Gopher Peace also has a variety of story books that depict individuals confronting bullies and negative behavior, and learning how to deal with such situations.

The Gopher Peace resources would be most effectively used in elementary and middle-school classrooms, but could also be very valuable in non-formal educational settings such as after school programs. The fact that the Gopher Peace resources are so fun and interactive, making learning like a game, really creates the opportunity for a wide array of applications.

All of the Gopher Peace resources, especially if used together, support all seven pillars of peace education. Skill-building is especially supported through interactive class lessons and games that familiarize students with conflict resolution, empathy, and team work. Gopher Peace nurtures emotional intelligences by helping students understand the emotions of anger and hurt, and how to peacefully resolve issues that lead to “negative” feelings. Through exposure to peace activists, particularly from underdeveloped nations, students have a chance to reframe history and their views of the world. All the activities and lessons in Gopher Peace allow students to explore a wide variety of approaches to peace through games, problems, simulations, and activities.

As the Gopher Peace work book does include some math and word problems, these lessons could feasibly be integrated into standard class periods. However, to get optimal use out of these wonderful resources, it would be very valuable to have a class period, even just once a week, dedicated to learning about peace through the Gopher Peace lesson plans and activity books. The Gopher Peace and the Peace Ranger story books should be displayed on the classroom bookshelf so that students can have access to them at their leisure. The beauty of these resources is that they holistically integrate lessons about peace, understanding, and conflict resolution into a classroom in a way that does not require an extensive change to the education system. These resources give teachers and students a way to learn about peace now, within the educational framework that we currently function within. Check out the awesome, interactive Gopher Peace website!

Operation Ceasefire

Operation Ceasefire is a project that was developed by David Kennedy, a self-taught criminologist and director at the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Kennedy developed the idea for Operation Ceasefire after visiting a public housing complex in south-central Los Angeles in 1985. Kennedy’s visit had a powerful impact on him as he witnessed the impact of drugs, gangs, and violence on this community. Kennedy dedicated his career to reducing gang and drug-related inner-city violence. He traveled around the United States, meeting with police officials and attorney generals in areas with significant drug markets, and first developed a program in Boston which has now been applied in 70 other cities. The program has been effective in reducing youth homicide rates by as much as sixty percent. “It is incredibly dangerous,” says Kennedy. “If you talk to these guys, what they say is, ‘I’m terrified … I got shot … My brother’s dead … I’ve been shot at … And they are trying to shoot me …’ That [is] their everyday world.” Kennedy’s homicide-reduction program, Operation Ceasefire, established meetings involving gang members, community members that the gang members respected, social services representatives, and law enforcement. Part of the strategy involved making it known to gang members that the police did not want to arrest them, but wanted them to stay alive and out of the criminal justice system. The police did intend to aggressively target people engaged in violent retaliation against one another. Involving the mothers of drug dealers in these meetings was also a crucial factor in reducing community violence. “We said, ‘Your son is at a turning point. He could be arrested right this minute, but we don’t want to do that. We understand how much that damages him and his community. There’s going to be a meeting in a week. Please come with your son to the meeting”. Nearly all invitees to these meetings came. This has been shown to have a significant effect on closing down open-air drug markets.

Kennedy developed this program to be implemented in informal educational settings, bringing together a diverse array of participants. Gang members, their families – especially the mothers, members of the community at large, and law enforcement officials must be involved in order for the program to be successful. Because this program is intergenerational, it does not work without involving both the older and younger generations. In a way, the older generation becomes part of the educational process by speaking with the young generation both about how much they care about them and about how much they are being hurt by these dangerous activities such as drug dealing and violence.

Community building is thoroughly upheld by this program by strengthening the relationships between generations and between gang members and the rest of society. Additionally, this project explores approaches to peace by bringing together unlikely partners aimed at achieving the same ends – eradicating violence in affected communities.

While the program itself is a peace education activity targeted at the affected communities, it would be very beneficial for students, particularly in high school to learn about this project. High school students are at the age where they are most likely to join a gang, and also most likely to suffer from gang violence. A part of the cycle of violence is that many of the gang members themselves are afraid, which leads to retaliation as a product of fear. Perhaps bringing this program directly into high schools could curb this fear and change detrimental behaviors before they start.

Sojourn to the Past

One of my father’s former students became a high-school history teacher and actively fundraises every year to take her students on a phenomenal trip that helps to reframe the history of the United States Civil Rights Movement. Sojourn to the Past is a “ten-day moving classroom” academic immersion program that takes 11th and 12th graders along the path of the United States Civil Rights Movement. This program brings together youth from diverse social, academic, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds in an effort to empower students and educators alike with the historical knowledge and motivation to take responsibility for fostering a society without violence and discrimination.

The trip for students and teachers begins in Atlanta, Georgia and continues through major sites of the Civil Rights struggle including Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, Alabama, Hattiesburg and Jackson, Mississippi, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee. Participants meet with surviving activists of the period including US Congressman John Lewis, a veteran of Dr. King’s Selma march, and Minnijean Brown Trickey who was one of the Little Rock Nine. Through the combination of historic site visits, oral history and the study of written documents, students and teachers who participate in Sojourn to the Past learn “tolerance, justice, compassion, hope, and non-violence.”

While the Sojourn to the Past trip is currently being offered to 11th and 12th grade students, I believe that this experience would be valuable for students from 5th grade onward. Often, and especially in our public school system, history is taught with heavy reliance on text books, many of which are one-sided and fail to illuminate the rich and diverse experiences that have shaped the world we live in today. Sojourn to the Past is a wonderful way to supplement a standard history curriculum, allowing students and educators to gain a deeper, more hands-on understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. Besides its current use, this is a program that could benefit anyone. It could easily be adapted to community and faith-based groups through institutions like charitable and civic organizations, community centers, churches, synagogues, and mosques.

The Sojourn to the Past trip is a free-standing peace education activity that is already well-designed and fully packaged to promote the historical knowledge and attitudes that are desirable for those interested in non-violent social change. The explicit values to which Sojourn is committed are humanity, diversity, respect and compassion, education, empowerment, social-justice through non-violence, courage and civic responsibility, integrity and accountability, and the creation of an inclusive environment.

Three pillars of peace education are exceptionally upheld through the Sojourn to the Past program. Through the act of bringing together students from diverse backgrounds and exposing them to a common experience, Sojourn helps to build community. By exposing participants to the ways that significant change was accomplished in the past through non-violence and solidarity, Sojourn allows its participants to explore different approaches to peace. Finally, and perhaps most explicitly, Sojourn reframes history by clarifying the relationship between today’s anti-discrimination laws and the struggles of real people a half a century ago.

Check out their website!!