New Zealand `peace studies'. Proposed school program sparks a political controversy

EFFORTS by the New Zealand government to introduce ``peace studies'' in the public schools have led critics in New Zealand to accuse the Labour government, led by Prime Minister David Lange, of attempting to use the public education system to consolidate public support for its widely publicized ban on port visits by nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships. New Zealand is one of only a handful of countries in the world, including Japan and the Soviet Union, to attempt to include peace studies in primary and secondary schools. Supporters of the peace studies initiative argue that the Lange government's efforts at educational reform demonstrate its true commitment to ending the nuclear arms race and to creating a less violent society, and they deny the claim by critics that the government is trying to use the public schools for political purposes.

``From the outset,'' said Minister of Education Russell Marshall in a recent speech, ``care was taken to distinguish between indoctrination and education, and to plan for programs that would stimulate active inquiry and develop skills in resolving conflict based on appreciation of a diversity of points of view.''

``Peace Studies: Draft Guidelines,'' a document released by the New Zealand Department of Education at the end of 1986, contains examples of how the broad aims can be ``integrated into existing subjects.'' This approach has the support of New Zealand's two largest unions of teachers, the Post-Primary Teachers Association and the New Zealand Education Institute, who had voted earlier that peace studies should be integrated into classroom and school practices and into existing curricula in a number of subjects.

For example, the ``Guidelines'' state that a school's language program ``can make important contributions to peace studies ... by developing in students: the ability to express their thoughts and feelings in written and oral language; the ability to respond sensitively to the feelings of others; competence in a variety of language modes; and an awareness of bias and the power of language to manipulate and control.'' Suggestions under the ``Social Studies'' heading include the following: ``the nature and implications of nuclear-free zones, the meaning and significance of Anzac Day [similar to Veterans' Day in the US] and Hiroshima Day, and the theory of the nuclear deterrent.''

``Peace studies facilitates interdisciplinary study,'' says Barbara Mabbett, assistant director of Curriculum Development for the New Zealand Department of Education. ``We are pointing to where in the existing curricula to focus on these ideas.''

Mabbett says that New Zealand's 410 secondary schools and 3,000 primary schools are highly autonomous, and as a result none can be forced by the federal government to undertake any peace studies activities. The final draft of the ``Guidelines'' will be distributed free to schools and teachers, and will point them to resources that may be helpful if they decide to pursue the approach.

This year, teams of teachers will be sent to schools to assist other teachers who are interested in peace studies, according to Ms. Mabbett. Eventually, in-service training will be offered to some teachers in order to help provide ``a coherent framework'' for peace studies.

Critics of peace studies in New Zealand are not against the broad aims of the program, but contend that the government is not being honest about what it hopes to achieve.

``What the government is really on about is seeking individuals to take a particular position on international policies and warship visits,'' says National Party (New Zealand's leading opposition party) member of Parliament Ruth Richardson, the party's spokeswoman on education. ``It is an attempt to engage in political and social engineering.'' She particularly objects to the use of the word ``peace'' to describe the government's educational reforms.

``It is a bogus subject,'' Ms. Richardson says. ``Teachers support it because they are keen to acquire skills - skills any professional is looking for. The gloss of `peace' has been put on the approach for political purposes. Who can preach against peace?''

Mabbett of the Department of Education acknowledges that it was a ``political decision'' by the Labour party to call the program ``Peace Studies,'' but she argues that the term used to describe an educational reform aimed at conflict resolution is not as important as its substance. ``People voting Labour knew that this would be the flavor of its education policy,'' she says. ``We believe that people are entirely right to see dangers in propaganda. We say that teachers are encouraged to show students various sides.''

Richardson disagrees. By using the term ``peace,'' the Labour party reveals its true intentions, she says. ``It is part of a way to persuade the public that there is only one way to avoid war and maintain peace - unilateralism, which is what Labour's foreign policy is based on.

``There is already substantial anti-Americanism among young people here,'' she says. ``This exercise will fuel this. The message of peace studies is this: If you are for peace, you must be against nuclear weapons. Who has nuclear weapons? America.''

A recent poll conducted by the New Zealand government revealed that 81 percent of the population supports the concept of teaching ``conflict resolution'' in the public schools. Marion Hancock, office director of the New Zealand Foundation for Peace Studies, which advocates the type of educational program that Labour is undertaking, points to the poll as proof of public support for peace studies. She believes, though, that if the poll had used the word ``peace,'' the level of public support ``might have been lower.''

Since New Zealand's two major parties are at odds over the worth of peace studies, voters will decide the fate of the initiative when they go to the polls at the end of this year. They will also decide the fate of New Zealand's ban on visits by nuclear ships. The National Party opposes the ship ban, while Prime Minister Lange has promised to maintain the ban, despite vocal opposition from the United States and Australia.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to New Zealand `peace studies'. Proposed school program sparks a political controversy
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today