Holistic Peace Education

Holistic Peace Education

by Sonnie McFarland

(Originally published in 1988 by the periodical Holistic Education Review.)

There is much talk and concern about the lack of peace and harmony in the world today. We as a culture are beginning to examine the possible causes of such unrest and violence throughout the world as we face ever-growing challenges to find some answers and solutions that might turn the course of destruction around. From one corner we hear the cry for “No Nukes!”; from another corner we hear the need for conflict resolution skills; from another corner we hear the cry for greater awareness and appreciation of other people and cultures; from still another corner we hear pleas to take care of the environment; others are advocating stricter discipline and law enforcement; while still others are calling to “look within” for peace. Wherein lies the answer?

I began asking myself this question some twenty-five years ago as I was entering the adult phase of my life and doing all I could to discern life’s meaning and my purpose in it. I was at the peak of frustration with this question when I picked up a book by Maria Montessori in which she beautifully stated at the children are the hope of peace for the world and that we must learn to educate them in such a way that they will be able to develop their fullest potential as human beings and reveal to us the “spiritual embryo” of humankind. She stated over and over that the children will show us the way and that we, as adults, teachers and guardians need to serve them sincerely. This message burned deeply within my soul as I read it and, as a result, I dedicated my life’s work, both as a parent and educator, to the children – our hope of peace.

My earliest spiritual training instilled within me the belief that all people are divine, so as I went on to pursue my educational training, I was most comfortable with the Montessori philosophy of respect for the children. Basic to this philosophy is the conviction that the child is divine and that there is a oneness and unity within everything in the Universe. Maria Montessori called this “cosmic education” which in today’s terms could just as well be termed holistic education or peace education.

As my work continued, it was enriched by my experiences of becoming a mother, working on my own personal growth through various workshops, seminars and classes, studying such persons as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Martin Buber, Carl Jung and Rudolf Steiner and becoming a student of yoga and meditation. Each of these experiences added significantly to the holistic dimension of my work with children over the years.

As I have come to see it, holistic education is education that recognizes and encourages the unity and harmony of all elements of the Universe. It further recognizes the full depth of all existence and sees at its core divinity, love, goodness or peace. It seems to me that as we begin talking about the importance of peace education, we need to talk about learning to understand this core of peace within ourselves, and then move out into the world in proper relationship to the peace within all others and all elements of the Universe.

Peace education is much more than weapons control, conflict resolution, environmental awareness, discipline, cultural exchanges etc. These are all part of peace education, but without proper understanding of the true essence of our inner nature, peace, we will not use these techniques effectively and will not reach our goal of world peace. First we must begin our peace work by learning to understand the inner working of ourselves. We must learn how to “purify our heart and render it burning with charity…..” so we can recognize the essence of peace within another and relate harmoniously outside ourselves. The words to a familiar song say it clearly, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Of course, this peace of inner illumination is not accomplished overnight; it is a continual process of self-observation, discrimination, and purification until one is able to experience true peace. Peace then becomes our inner teacher, our guide, and our inspiration that allows us to move out into the world in harmonious relationship with everyone and everything. Within the context of education (holistic or traditional) there needs to be peace education or education of the heart.

In a most illuminating article on “Educating the Whole Child,” Dr. Edwina Hartshorn states that.

…Our goal as educators must be to help our children reach their full potentials by providing both inner and outer education – to help them learn about and develop the skills necessary to live in the world but also to help them become aware of their inner being and to understand themselves on all levels.”

This inner education that Edwina talks about is assisting the children to understand the various functions of their body, mind, emotion and spirit so they can consciously manage them and relate effectively to their external environment. The outer education is providing an appropriate environment, experiences and knowledge that encourage the children to explore, discover, understand, master and appreciate the external world of beauty. All too often in education, we focus entirely on the life without and fail to educate ourselves or others about the life within. Peace education, to me, is educating the “life within” and learning how to relate harmoniously to the “life without.” Willis Harman, President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, further illuminated my ideas of peace when he suggested that there are three kinds of peace:

  1. Enforced peace that is gained through terror, threat and fear.
  2. Practical peace which comes by changing the environment, developing conflict resolution skills, negotiation, disarmament, etc.
  3. Real peace which is the true, lasting inner peace, (This peace takes a long time and is a process of dealing with self and relationships.)

When we speak of peace education, we need to be aware of which level of peace we are focusing on. In my work, I am focusing primarily on the third level of peace education – that process of understanding the levels of inner elf and the process of relating harmoniously to everyone and everything within one’s consciousness. Over the years I have worked in the context of a Montessori environment and have added various ideas and activities that I feel have brought about greater awareness. Appreciation and expression of peace and harmony in the children. For the sake of its discussion I will be focusing primarily on the special ideas that have contributed to this awareness in the classroom. These activities can be applied at various levels depending on the age group and can be applied to most teaching styles effectively.

I will present my ideas under four main areas:

  1. Setting the Stage – This section includes preparation of the teacher, staff, environment, and the children.
  2. Peace: Individual Awareness & Centering – This section includes ideas and thoughts to give the children greater awareness and mastery of their bodies, minds and emotions so that their spirit or full potential might be more easily manifest.
  3. Harmony: Interrelationships & Community – This section includes various ideas and thought to give the children greater awareness and mastery of the elements necessary to relate effectively outside themselves. This is based on Jack Gibb’s TORI model of community (Trust-Openness of community (Trust-Openness-Realization-Interdependence).
  4. Cultural Awareness: Global Vision of Peace and Harmony – This section includes various ideas and activities to expand the children’s awareness and appreciation of other people and cultures so they can more easily apply the principles of peace and harmony globally.

While these ideas appear in an outlined sequential form, it is not necessary to use them in this systematic order. Over the years I have used all of them at various times successfully and find it useful now to present them in this particular context.

Setting the Stage

Before beginning our work in peace education it is important to make specific preparations – to set the stage for our star, peace, to appear, this staff, environment and the children.

Preparing self. Maria Montessori made a statement that has been a support and strength for me throughout my years of working with children.

The first essential is that the teacher should go through an inner, spiritual preparation – cultivate certain aptitudes in the moral order. This is the most difficult part of her training, without which all the rest is of no avail… She must study how to purify her heart and render it burning with charity towards the child. She must “put on humility,” and above all, learn how to serve. She must learn how to appreciate and gather in all those tiny and delicate manifestations of the opening life in the child’s soul. Ability to do this can only be attained through a genuine effort towards self-perfection.

The first thing, then, the would-be teacher has to acquire is what one might call a “spiritual technique.” And to attain it she will have to experience something akin to a religious conversion, for it will involve a “transvaluation of values.”

Several ideas that stand out to me are the idea that there must be a willingness on the part of teachers to go through a “refiner’s fire” to purify oneself for the sacred task of “appreciating and gathering in the tiny and delicate manifestations of the opening life in the child’s soul.” We, as teachers, need to go through a continual process of observing ourselves, understanding the source of our disturbances, removing the seed cause of disturbance through nonattachment and learning how to consciously tune into our center of peace within our hearts. From this center of peace we act with love, allowing, encouraging and appreciating the unfoldment and manifestation of peace within the children. Our work becomes that of selfless service as we act for something greater than ourselves, as we becoming an instrument of love.

As we become more and more in tune with this center of peace within us, we are guided by intuition and creativity. Our work becomes spontaneous, pure joy.

Some of the techniques I have used successfully to assist me in this self preparation include the following:

  1. Breath awareness.
    If there is one technique that has helped the most over the years, it is breath awareness. Breath and mind are close friends and each has a great effect on the other. By learning to slow down and control breath. One can quiet and center the mind. By calming the mind, one simultaneously affects they emotions in a constructive way.
    “To the extent we can be fully aware of our breath and keep it even and steady, our behavior will be appropriate to the present situation, rather than determined by our unconscious emotional structures and conditioning.” – Edwina Hartshorn
    One simple exercise is to begin breathing from the diaphragm, consciously lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation by one or two counts. Keeping the inhalation and exhalation even and smooth. Practice this at all times. Observe its effect.
  2. Relaxation.
    Being tense or stressed is the opposite of being peaceful. It is important to find some activity that releases tension and relaxes the mind and muscles each day. These might include stretching, running, golfing, swimming, hot baths, Tai Chi, yoga etc. Learning to do total deep relaxation is most helpful. This can be relaxation is most helpful. This can be done by laying with back on the floor, arms to the sides, palms up the legs about one foot apart. Begin by taking several deep, slow even breaths. Consciously begin at the top of the head and ask each muscle group to relax. Proceed through each group systematically to the toes. Breathe deeply several more times and come back up the body relaxing. Enjoy the peace!
  3. Meditation-Silence.
    Taking time daily to find a quiet spot where everyday concerns spot where everyday concerns can be put to rest and one can communicate with the deeper peace within is one of the most healing and strengthening activities one can choose. By practicing meditation or silence we are able to consciously study the internal workings of our body, mind, emotions and spirit so that we can have greater self mastery. The greater the mastery of our body, mind and emotion, the brighter our inner soul of peace can manifest itself in life and the greater will be our ability to facilitate this in others.
  4. Self acceptance.
    It is important to appreciate oneself, treat oneself kindly ad affirm oneself continually. Remember that we are all in process and life is our teacher. We are here to learn and grow. Mistakes are part of the game. The important thing is to learn fro everything and everyone we encounter. It is taking a potential stumbling block ad using it for a stepping stone.
  5. Love the children unconditionally.
    In a lecture, Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, director and founder of the center for attitudinal healing, was asked what he would teach the teacher. His answer was, “I would teach love. I would have less school and more experience of love.” He went on to state that the children represent unconditional love, the only peace there is an that to be fully alive we need to live by our hearts, rather than our eyes. We must be filled with forgiveness and given ourselves away in love. One specific exercise that has helped me be open to the possibility of unconditional love is to take some time before greeting the children to visualize them as whole and beautiful (especially those I might be having difficulty with). I see my love surrounding them and I see all of our love coming together in a mandala. I consciously offer myself as an instrument to serve the children in their journey to self discovery and mastery.
  6. Be a student.
    Remain humble and teachable in all situations and appreciate each child. Person or experience as having something to share. There are in reality no teachers or students rather there is mutual sharing and learning. We are all a vital part of a community of learners.

One final word about preparing ourselves as teaches of children. What we are will ring louder than what we say. Our role model teaches more than any materials can. We must be manifesting peace to help others manifest peace.

Preparing staff. Other adults in the classroom are a vital part of the environment. They, too, model behavior that influences the children and have something of value to offer the class. I have found that the more I appreciate my staff. Utilize their talents and honestly care about their growth and development, the more they feel comfortable to take the risk to open up and manifest the greater self within them. Classroom dove acts as a living symbol of peace.

Preparing the environment. Just as a seed must have carefully prepared soil in which to reach its maximum potential, so must the children have a carefully prepared environment to reach their maximum potential. Following are a few specific ideas that have assisted me in creating beautiful learning environments for the children:

  1. Energy spots.
    When establishing an environment, sit quietly in the space and get a sense of where specific activities would best take place. Where is the center of energy in the room? Where is the best spot to give group lessons? Where is a quiet spot for a library or for a peace corner? Where is a spot conducive to creative activity? Proceed to build the environment around these main areas.
  2. Child’s viewpoint.
    As the environment unfolds, keep in mind the child’s point of view. Make sure that all furniture fits, pictures are at the child’s eye level, shelves are the proper size and materials are displayed simply and attractively. Sit in the middle of the floor and see the environment through the eyes of the child.
  3. Provide attractive materials.
    Materials for the children need to be of fine quality and complete. Glass and natural wood are preferred when possible as the child’s aesthetic taste is keen. If the child is given poor quality, what incentive is there to respect or care for the materials? The extra touch of matching colors, adding a piece of felt to an exercise for aesthetics, or displaying the activity in a unique basket or tray draws the child to the work.
  4. Use concrete symbols.
    Children respond so beautifully to the use of concrete symbols to illustrate more abstract concepts. One example is to have a white peace dove in the classroom as a symbol of peace. When the children are peaceful, allow the dove to sit outside its cage and watch the children. Another symbol might be a peace candle or birthday candle that is lit at special times. Having a specific shelf to keep these “sacred” objects is ideal. This shelf with its special objects that have significant meaning to the children becomes a classroom alter that the children revere and respect. This symbolic representation is extremely powerful for the children.
    Sensorial impression.
    Be aware of the overall sensorial impression of the environment. How does it look? How do the colors used affect how I feel? What is the texture of the room? How does it smell? What are the sounds upon entering? (Relaxation music playing softly has added much to the tone of my classroom.) How does the general tone of the environment feel?

It is important that the classroom environment reflect a feeling of love, respect and peace if we are to encourage the manifestation of peace within the children. The environment, potentially, facilitates as much, or more learning, for the children as the teacher. Much care, thought and love needs to go into the preparation of it.

Preparing the children. When I begin a new year with the children, I emphasize a few specific ideas that help set a tone of peace and awareness among the children.

  1. Focus on the peace within the child.
    There is a beautiful book entitled, something Special Within, that I read each year to the children. It illustrates vividly the idea that within each person is a lovelight. It explains what kinds of things make it bright and what kinds of things make it become dim. Several ideas are given to make the light grow brighter when it becomes dim. We refer often to our lovelight throughout the year as it becomes a concrete symbol of inner peace. We have a specific lovelight candle that sits on a table in our peace corner as a reminder of the inner light within each of us. Children can use this peace corner when they feel a need to center, re-kindle or enjoy their inner peace.
  2. Focus on the purpose of their being in school.
    Help the children understand that their purpose for being in the classroom is to allow their love-light or peace to shine and to learn how to understand and relate harmoniously to others and life around them.
  3. Establish ground rules from a position of peace.
    Present the ground rules as agreements necessary to show respect for each other’s peace. We talk softly so others can concentrate. We walk rather than run it the classroom so we don’t disturb other’s work. Etc.
  4. Encourage cooperation.
    It is important to encourages and appreciate instances where the children cooperate and share. There are many opportunities to use these words and express joy when seeing cooperation and sharing.
  5. Show respect for everything in the environment.
    This means that it is important to help the children develop respect for the animals, plants and materials in the classroom. Grace and courtesy lessons help to focus this awareness. Sincere appreciation on the teacher’s part, for the smallest of gifts received sets a tone of appreciation and respect among the children.
  6. Introduce the Silence Game.
    Just as it is important for children to learn how to move properly, it is equally as important for them to learn ho to “be still.” To focus on this, we make silence every day before going to work. This consists of sitting with legs crossed, hands on knees, back straight and closing eyes for a few seconds to listen to the sounds, feel inner peace, or listen for their name to be whispered. This activity, done daily, increases the attention span and concentration of the children significantly.

By doing some initial ground work with these ideas, the children are more receptive and comfortable in the classroom so does their willingness to risk to reach out, to attempt new challenges and to let their light of peace shine.

Peace: Individual Awareness and Centering

After “setting the stage” some specific activities to give understanding of the working of the body, mind, emotion and spirit within each child are helpful. As the children become more aware of how their body, mind, emotion and spirit operate, they begin to realize that they have some control over themselves and their lives.

Body, since we can see, feel and touch the body on a material level, it is probably the easiest place to begin as we assist children in understanding its functions and being able to consciously use it effectively.

We might begin our study by focusing on simple body parts for a preschool age group. Having them work with body part puzzles and cards helps them lean the names of some of the more obscure parts. Having them trace their own body and label the parts is exciting as are records and game such as “Simon Says.” Along with this study, it is important to stress the importance and use of each part. After having focused on the body parts, the call to Silence becomes more real as you suggest the possibility that the children make each part be still.

Other areas of focus for all age groups are the organs and various internal systems of the body. This might include the stomach and digestive system, the lungs and respiratory system, the heart and the circulatory system. As each area is presented, emphasize the interworkings of the parts to the whole and how the proper care of each will bring about greater health, happiness and peace. For example, when talking of the stomach emphasize how different foods affect the body; concerning the lungs emphasize how the breath affects the brain and the emotions (this is a great time to add breath awareness to the Silence Game); and with the heart, emphasize its need for exercise and relaxation. As children can visualize the inner workings of themselves, they will more consciously care for themselves.

The skeleton of the body is always fascinating. Learning about the bones, joints and vertebrae are helpful as the children can visualize that which allows them to move. One important area to focus on is the spinal column. Through this study, children become award of the spinal cord that is the transmitter of the message to the brain. The importance of posture and sitting with straight back in silence can be emphasized based on this.

Finally, the muscles can be explored. Children can develop appreciation for how their bodies move and the importance of aerobic as well as stretching exercise. Introducing them to both types is important Developing awareness of tensing and relaxing muscles is excellent. (I have incorporated some stretching and relaxing every day prior to the Silence Game.)

In summary, as the children become conscious of the importance and interaction of the various aspects of body, they begin to develop more appreciation, as well as learn that they can have some control over their mental and spiritual states through conscious care and use of their body – an empowering realization, indeed.

Mind. To understand the function and power of mind is a life-long study. We can, however, begin to give the children some ideas of how the mind operates and how they can begin to creatively and consciously work with it.

One of the most dramatic demonstrations of mind is to focus on the senses, emphasizing that the mind gets its messages from the senses. This is particularly fun for the pre-school age, but can be enjoyed at higher levels by older children. Various exercises that require them to discern through one of the five senses illustrates the point of how important the senses illustrates the point of how important the senses are to knowing what is in the external environment. This introduces a study of basic nerves that carry messages to the brain.

Thoughts are powerful and affect what we feel, say and do. It is important to help children understand that their thoughts trigger their emotions. Illustrate through various ways the power of negative, as well as positive, thoughts on feelings. Begin working with children to be aware of their thoughts they have of themselves or others and can, thereby, change their feelings. Having the children repeat positive affirmations periodically can be useful, i.e., “I am a special person,” or “I am strong and healthy.” It is important to remember how powerful words are and to realize we can make a difference in a child’s life just by what we communicate to them about themselves. We need to take every opportunity to affirm the beauty at the children we work with.

Emotions are a direct result of how our mind operates. Assisting children to recognize them, name them and talk about them is vital. Learning to accept, understand and channel emotion is empowering.

Willis Harman spoke beautifully of imagination when he said: “Children can imagine so much more because they haven’t been taught what isn’t possible. They can believe.” Lots of opportunity for imagination is imperative. Appreciating and encouraging all variety of creative activity will give the children a deep sense of self worth as well as a powerful tool to express their center of peace. I find symbols of peace (rainbows, doves, sun, for example) appearing more frequently in the creative expressions of the children as we focus on peace in the classroom.

The strength of visualization is being talked about by many people. There are those who claim that we have the power to create our reality by what we visualize. While it may not be quire so simple, visualization is a powerful tool and we need to give children opportunity to practice it. Meditating With Children is a book that gives some good ideas to start working with guided imagery. I have found it helpful to do relaxation with the children prior to a creative visualization. It can be effectively used in conjunction with specific lessons. In the study of the Native American Plains Culture. I have the children go on a guided visualization to seek their own Indian name.

Finally when speaking of the use of mind, it is vital that we provide learning experiences that touch both hemispheres of the brain. There are some specific exercises that can be taught children that link both hemispheres simultaneously. This comes from yoga and educational kinesthetics.

While the mind is always active in these and other ways, it is important for the children to have daily experience in the silence of the mind. They need to learn how to observe and control the thoughts of the mind through control of the breath so they can become aware of the deeper aspects of mind – intuition and inner peace!

Spirit. When I speak of the Spirit of the child. I am referring to the deep abiding love or peace within the child’s soul. Our ultimate purpose, as I see it, is to become one with this peace and manifest it in all aspects of life to fulfill our greatest potential.

I have found that as we talk about this peace and work with it in so many varied ways in the classroom, the children become more sensitive to its existence and desirous of its presence. A new consciousness of peace grows among the children, creative ideas spring from this consciousness, sharing happens more naturally, cooperation is more frequent and love is expressed more freely. Children begin to listen to their “inner teacher,” and we begin to tune in to one another on a higher level of knowing. Spontaneity and joy abound among the children as they are freed to express the peace within themselves.

We have enjoyed several activities that have reinforced these feelings of love and peace. One such activity we do each year is that they children given away one toy of their own to the Native American children at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We, of course, talk about the “give away” principle and read The Legend of Blue Bonnet and the Native American legend of “Jumping Mouse” to illustrate this principle.

Another set of fascinating books is the Shahastra books, The Missing Energy of Earth and The Magical Rainbow Man. These books tell a beautiful tale of how the earth is saved by the manifestation of love. We ended up writing and doing a play based on this story.

Celebrations and rituals become very important expressions of the spirit of love and peace. Holidays and seasonal cycles present perfect opportunities to celebrate the special place within – peace. One of the most successful celebrations we have had is an annual Children’s Festival of Peace – Through the Arts. Here the children have an opportunity to work with various artists in the community too express their vision of Peace. This is set up so that the to share peace songs, poems, and stories and then they go to the workshops of their choice for the morning and afternoon. At the end of the day, there is a re-gathering and the various artistic expressions of peace are shared.

Harmony: Interrelationships and Community

Peace and harmony represent, to me, a cosmic dance. I see individual peace centers reaching out and relating to other individual peace centers. If there is realization of the peace within self and the peace with another, then this relationship can be called harmony. Oppositely, when the individual is not aware of this inner peace in self or another, relationship, too often, is based on superficial, selfish, individual desires. This creates disharmony.

Martin Buber talks about two kinds of relationship attitudes, “I-It” and “I-Thou.” The “I-It” type relationship comes from the individual seeing another as an object and relating to them as separate and different from self. “I-Thou,” on the other hand, recognizes the peace or inner soul within self and in another and relates with total being to another’s total being in a genuine meeting.?

According to Buber,

The primary word I-Thou can be spoken only with the whole being. Concentration and fusion into the whole being can never take place through my agency, nor can it ever take place without me. I become through my relation to the Thou; as I become I, I say Thou. All real living is meeting.

While Buber referred primarily to relationship between human beings, I see the possibility of expanding the definitions to include animals, plants, and objects of all creation. I believe as we each become closer to our center of peace, we will more easily recognize and respect it in everyone and everything we encounter. The more peace we experience within, the more likely we are to enter into an I-Thou relationship without.

While “I-Thou” can’t be forced or manipulated. one can hold oneself open to its appearance and can do some inner work to prepare oneself to receive it. Jack Gibb, a humanistic psychologist, has created a model of relationships and community that I have found very helpful, personally and professionally, over the years. He calls his model, T.O.R.I. I-Trust, O-Openness, R-Realization, I-Interdependence. He states that as one begins to relate with trust, rather than fear, one feels more comfortable and can become more open; as one opens up, one can begin to realize more completely one’s true inner nature; the realization of the inner nature of self and another creates spontaneous interdependence or community. He sees this process as a spiral repeating itself to deeper and deeper levels, ending up in “genuine meeting.”

It is my experience that, just as children benefit fro naming, focusing and consciously working on various aspects of finding inner peace, they benefit by consciously focusing on learning how to relate effectively outside themselves. Over the years I have followed the T.O.R.I. model. While many of the techniques and ideas can be randomly applied, I feel it is helpful to have a specific unit of attention on each of the four areas.

Trust. Trust is that attitude of love that is willing to take a chance and risk opening up to the possibility of union with life. It is the opposite of fear which creates barriers, negates and destroys. Fear is our greater enemy. Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D. in his book, Love Is Letting Go of fear states:

…. as we help ourselves and each other let go of fear, we begin to experience a personal transformation. We start to see beyond our reality as defined by the physical senses, and we enter a state of clarity in which we discover that all minds are joined, that we share a common Self, and that inner peace and Love are in fact all that are real…

Some experiences that can be used in the classroom include having the children take Trust Walks where one child is blindfolded and another is trusted to guide them. For older children you can do the Trust Circle where one person stands in the center of the circle and falls to the outside circle. This person must trust the group to catch him/her and pass him/her to others in the circle. The Trust Fall is good and can be demonstrated with one adult falling into the arms of another. With these exercises it is important for the children to be able to process their impressions through group discussion.

Animals in the classroom are wonderful to use to illustrate the importance of trust as they usually become nervous when children tease or otherwise disrespect them and cause the animal to lose trust. (Even the plants grow better in a climate where they feel cared for.) The story of “Hortense the Elephant” who sat on an egg because she said she would and “an elephant can be trusted 100% is a great story of trust.

Several other principles can be focused on that are directly related to trust. They are non-harming, non-stealing, non-hoarding, and non-lying. Each of these principles, when applied, builds trust. Their opposites, harming, stealing, hoarding, and lying create suspicion, doubt and distance.

Of course the most powerful teacher of trust is deep unconditional love for the children. By feeling this in the classroom they will spontaneously begin to experience trust and respond joyously to it.

Openness. As we and the children develop trust and feel comfortable, we do begin to share ourselves more with others. We desire to communicate out thoughts and feelings. This is an excellent time to focus on communication skills such as active listening, “I” messages and conflict resolution. It is a time to help children express their emotions in clear and concise ways. An excellent book on this and other peace activities is Teaching Peace, by Ruth Fletcher.

Being a model of authenticity is of major importance. As adults we need to be willing to share ourselves, to be real, to relate to the children person to person. By having a clear example of openness, the children will begin demonstrating it in their activities.

A poem, entitled “Lost Star,” written by Dr. James C. McFarland illustrates the beauty of openness.


A long lost star blinks dimly in the night.
We wandered here, strangers from another sphere,
A longing soul seeking to go home.
We need not that any man should show the way.
Rivers return eternally to the seas that gave them birth.
To think and scheme, to cling and grasp,
Draws curtains on the Light, making beggars of us all.
Not discovery, but recovery of the Center is the Way.
The divine within grows brighter- returning to the Source.
As we empty our cup, revealing our whole, becoming as a Child –
The core of creativity is opened wide.

Realization. Abraham Maslow, a Pioneer of the humanistic psychology movement, talked about the goal of education.

…The goal of education, the human goal, the humanistic goal. The goal so far as human beings are concerned – is ultimately the “self-actualization” of a person. The becoming fully human, the development of the fullest height that the human species can stand up to or that the particular individual can come to.

This “self actualization” that Maslow refers to, is to me, that state where one has conscious realization of inner peace and has harmony in all relationships. Of course, this is a life-long process of discovery, and at times we catch glimpses of this reality. (Maslow refers to these glimpses as “peak experiences.”)

As we work with the children it is important that we take time to honor and respect the beauty within each one. Displaying their creative work, providing opportunities for them to perform and develop talent, and facilitating their sharing important things in their life all add to building their sense of self esteem. One specific activity that the children enjoy is “Happy Hour.” Once a week, or so, one child’s name is drawn from a basket. This child is the center for Happy Hour and literally sits in the center of the group of children. The group is asked to become silent and focus on some special quality of this selected child. Each child then shares what he/she appreciates or admires in the special child. Recording the sentiments is a nice touch so that the child has a memory to take home.

Another aspect of Realization is to give the children the concept of an inner teacher that will guide them. Encourage them to be still and listen for the ideas to come from within. This can be done nicely when asking children to select their individual work activities. Explain to them that the inner teacher is their peaceful nature sharing thoughts and that it is easiest to understand these ideas when they are silent.

Interdependence. The happier we are wit ourselves, the more likely we are to be able to reach out, share and cooperate with others, as confidence in self rises, so does interdependence.

Providing opportunities for the children to be involved in activities such as feasts, hikes, programs and projects develops cooperation and interdependence. It is important to involve the children as much as possible in the planning and execution of the activities so they can experience the process of interdependence.

Interdependence can be felt and described as community or the ability to relate effectively. From a sense of community or interdependence we catch a glimpse, on a micro scale, of the unity of all peoples. From this experience perhaps, our level of trust will move up a little higher and we will spiral to greater heights of openness, realization and interdependence and ad infinitum. We will gradually see the unity and oneness of all – the goal of holistic peace education.

Cultural Awareness: Global Vision of Peace and Harmony.

The natural outcome of peace within and without must eventually become world wide peace. While this may take many years to accomplish, we can prepare the children to be open to and appreciate people of different cultures.

This can be done effectively by beginning with the study of the basic needs of all people-physical needs of food, clothing, shelter, tools, transportation, health and communication; spiritual needs of culture, adornment and religion and ritual. From this perspective we can study cultures in relation to how the environment around them determines and influences the manner in which they meet these basic needs. Study of the Native American culture areas lends itself beautifully to this concept.

Participating in rituals and celebrations from other cultures helps develop a sense of connection. Creating and appreciating symbols of peace throughout the world is powerful and healing as is the frequent singing of peace songs.

Conclusion

If our hope of peace is in the children, then our education must include holistic peace education. That is education that focuses on both the inner and outer education of the child. True peace will only come when we as a people know the true source of peace and can consciously have access to this source as we interact in all phases of our lives. It has been said that the children will lead us in this journey. In conclusion I would like to share and insightful story written by Tara Bardeen, age 6:

This Indian is taking the peace dove for his tribe. His tribe will take the peace dove to the other tribe of Indians. The Lord said that if you had a peace dove around you could not fight. So they went and they showed the tribe the peace dove. They had no war but they had peace.

They picked up their teepees and went close to the tribe that took the peace dove to them. They lived happily. After they had seen the peace dove for a while they let him go. The Indians put a tag on him that said “Indian tribe peace dove.”

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Sonnie McFarland received a B.S. in Sociology from Brigham Young University and went on to receive Montessori certification from the American Montessori Society in 1969. She and her husband founded are directed the shining Mountains center for Education and yoga center) from 1972 to 1980. In 1980, Sonnie moved to the Montessori School of Denver, where she currently teachers. During this time she has served as the President of the Montessori Teacher’s Association of Colorado, a consultant for the American Montessori society and a consultant for the Rocky Mountain Montessori activities, she and her husband do parenting classes and co-direct the First Divine Science Church School in Denver. They have two children, Christian and Jeannie.


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