Grading the peace teachers. The critics are unfair or uninformed. (First of three stories)

ALMOST 30 years ago, sociologist and author C. Wright Mills warned about ``crackpot realists'' who reject all potential alternatives to the status quo as utopian or biased. Unfortunately much of the criticism of peace studies has been in that vein. Many opponents, with their unfounded accusations, show a fundamental ignorance of peace studies programs. For instance, peace studies is no more a front for promoting ``student activism'' than economics is for promoting American capitalism, or political science is for promoting American government. In fact, peace studies does at least as well as our traditional disciplines in satisfying the norms of scientific neutrality and academic rigor.

Far from ``views'' that ``masquerade as a scientific discipline,'' as some charge, peace studies is well in line with education's goal of promoting good citizenship and with the university's historic objectives. Plato's Academy, a forerunner of the modern university, pursued the questions of what constituted the ``good life'' and how to attain it in society. Higher education arose to inject ``a civilizing order in a barbarous society.'' The first universities adapted church learning to the needs and problems of emerging cities and societies. Today, peace studies helps universities continue their mission of promoting human and social development. Legitimacy no longer the question

This field of study has been adopted by more than 160 American universities, including such leading schools as Harvard, Columbia, and Brandeis. It has been endorsed by dozens of professional, scientific, and educational organizations, ranging from the Association of American Colleges to the International Association of University Presidents, the American Council on Education, the Teachers College Record, and the International Studies Association. It has been given the seal of approval of the US Congress, when that body recently passed legislation creating the US Institute of Peace.

Peace studies constitutes an interdisciplinary field that examines peace research, human rights, conflict resolution, social movements, and futures studies, from a global perspective. Drawing on dozens of professional journals and an extensive peace research literature, peace studies provides a balanced, hardheaded, and rigorous discipline that explores the obstacles to peace and justice and alternative strategies for a more peaceful world. It helps develop the kinds of practical and intellectual skills well within university goals and traditions, such as critical analysis, mediation techniques, policy planning, values clarification, and systems analysis. A reverse bias

Critics bemoan the political bias of peace studies, yet in doing so often reveal their own biases. They complain about courses timed to correspond to the Reagan administration's Strategic Defense Initiative proposal, assuming the courses will oppose it, when in fact their purpose is to examine it -- perhaps in time to help decide whether the United States should spend the billions of dollars it will cost. They complain about a psychologist heading one major university's peace program, betraying an ignorance, perhaps, that peace studies is not merely another approach to military affairs; it is a comprehensive approach to peace and human behavior, where psychologists and other social scientists not traditionally involved in military policy should be welcomed. For what little we political scientists and other military experts have contributed to peace, a psychologist's perspective could surely do no worse.

In discussing other university courses or programs, we seldom question their bias, such as the prejudice of environmental science toward a clean atmosphere or the bias of economics toward corporate capitalism. Few observers criticize the absence in most international-relations or security courses of any materials on peace research. They ignore the vast amounts of money spent on military education in the public schools and public and private universities as well as the military academies. The Pentagon connection

Opponents also ignore how we, as university researchers, must rely for much of our funding on the money and goodwill of the Pentagon or other parts of the military establishment. They disregard how many of our universities not only research, but also produce, ``military hardware,'' while devoting virtually no work to developing ``peace hardware.'' Apparently harsh critics of peace studies assume such education will inherently challenge military policy.

We have two alternatives for achieving balance in the university: We can require balance in every one of our courses -- a standard we never enforce against other disciplines; or we can require a balance overall in perspectives offered among the courses in the curriculum. Peace studies will have to make incredible progress before they can counterbalance the military and other conventional perspectives routinely offered in the university, even though the field offers courses that are frequently models of internal balance.

Peace studies does not upset the balance in education; it provides real balance for the first time. It's time we gave the field serious recognition as a new tool in the search for a peace that, despite our other skills and education, still eludes us.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Grading the peace teachers. The critics are unfair or uninformed. (First of three stories)
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today