The tragedy at Newtown is driving a debate over gun control. Gun control is critical. But there is also a need for basic change in our culture of violence. To this end, the Oregon-based Peace Village, Inc. (PV) is taking the message of nonviolence directly to children.
Growing Effort Reaches Children
Eighteen years ago, Rev. Charles Busch instituted a week long summer day camp for ages 6 to 12 on the Oregon Coast.Its immediate impetus was a local act of bullying. (Bullying now, of course, is widely recognized as a serious problem. Even as I write this, The Oregonian reports that a bullied gay teen in La Grande, Jadin Bell, has just hanged himself.)
PV’s genuinely grassroots movement has thus far fallen under the radar of the major media. But it has continued to grow steadily, mainly by word of mouth. There are now 21 villages in 10 states and Haiti where children learn to become peacemakers. They learn to do whatever it takes to address the climate of violence — first by changing themselves and then moving out into the larger community.
PV also offers Fields of Peace, a program for adults, and Peace Out, a high school curriculum.
Teachers and students are frequently recruited from a variety of different cultures and religions. Children learn compassion and respect for diverse ethnicities and beliefs through personal contact. They also study various role models such Mahatma Gandhi, Peace Pilgrim, Martin Luther King, and Badshah Kahn.
Kahn is particularly notable because so many American children are chillingly afraid of Muslims. The nonviolent Muslim, the man of peace, who walked alongside Gandhi and raised a nonviolent army of thousands, is a powerful antidote to the negative monolithic view of Islam. Kahn’s heroic life, and interpretation of Islam as a religion of love, offsets the surrounding hate-filled stereotypes.
Peace is Active, Forceful
Many agree changes must take place in individuals in order to attain a peaceful society. Legislation is not enough. Education and the environment create actual physical changes in the brain, by stimulating electrical connections. Not surprisingly, studies of the brain show that children who are emphatic with others can best regulate negative emotions. They are not often attracted to aggression and violence.
“This is the hard work,” Busch observed. “Gun control may be necessary, but it’s a band aid.”
PV aims to provide tools for an overall safe and meaningful life in what is arguably the most violent country in the world. One of its talented teachers, Darren Reiley, has created a “Peace Out” charter school class in Eugene, Oregon, and PV will soon publish a semester curriculum for high school. Hopefully, peace studies will take a rightful place among physical education, health, music and home economics. Such an achievement could bring about deep and lasting change.
The very word peace, through some kind of Orwellian process, now often suggests a corpselike passivity and absurd idealism. But as PV graduates become aware of the killing fields that surround them — of the violence embedded in language, media, racism, prejudice, politics, poverty and pollution — they discover that peace does not mean passively laying-back. Peace is the Force for Truth described by Gandhi and Kahn — a call to action that issues from strength. Peace skills have immediate intrinsic value that leads to a joyful and meaningful life. As children revel in outdoor experience, healthy nutrition, media analysis, yoga and meditation, they get a taste of the nonviolent action that permanently changes culture.
Guns did not deter Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But learning respect for diversity and ways to communicate through peace and compassion might have a dramatic effect on senseless violence in the future.
You Can Start a Peace Village
Starting a one-week Village in any community is doable.
The award-winning curriculum, Making a Village, details daily lesson plans for 1) Courting the Peace Within, 2) Nonviolent Conflict Resolution, 3) Media Savvy, and 4) Walking Softly on Mother Earth.
To learn how a civic club, faith community, school, college or foundation can create a Peace Village camp this summer in its community, go to www.peacevillageinc.org, or contact Jen at email@example.com. The website also provides information about the other peace programs and projects of PV. Φ
Ken McCormack, a board member of Peace Village Inc. and former Oregon PeaceWorks board member, is the author of the recently published book Hail Holy Light.