Learning Peace

By Andrew Blackwell | 1985-12-01 12:00:00

During its Second Special Session on Disarmament in June 1982, the United Nations launched the UN World Disarmnnnent Campaign. This represented an admission on the part of the representatives of 150 governments that in the absence of the political will necessary for them to act together toward stopping the arms race, a better informed world public opinion may be the only hope. In effect, the General Assembly called for an adult education program of immense global proportions.

While a campaign to change public opinion does require the presentation of accurate facts, the dispelling of myths, and the dissemination of information about the dangers of present international relations, in my opinion much broader objectives are required. The political will for disarmament cannot be created without a real cultural transformation toward global consciousness.

If our goal for the planet is two cars in every garage and a garage for every family, we will need a nuclear war to eliminate most of the families. Mother Earth cannot support five thousand million of us at that level of consumption. At best, she might let us each have a bicycle, but the leaders of the nations and the corporations do not want an adult education campaign to raise such questions.

But, despite the lack of support from the world's governments for such a campaign, it is emerging anyway. Wherever peace movements exist, links are inevitably made between the nuclear arms race and the plight of humanity all around the globe. That, at any rate, is the thesis of this article.

Global Consciousness

About five years ago, while I was snorkeling over a coral bank off the coast of Venezuela, I saw a school of fish suspended in the water in front of me, motionless, apparently watching to see what I would do. I stilled myself, letting my limbs float loosely on the surface. They began to move: not away, but beneath me; not randomly, but in streams. I saw hundreds of tiny flashing bodies, separating and recombining, some streaming up, others down, all curving into three-dimensional figure eights, then creating a dance as they wove a living, moving, double helix. They were one with each other, turning the school itself from an apparently random collection of individuals into a larger, harmonious, and most extraordinary being.

Some five thousand million of us live on the skin of this planet. Despite our electronic communications, we are not one. Though we claim to favor equity, we live by values incompatible with equity. We do not flow together, as that school of fish. We do not unite in a weaving celebration of global humanity.

My profession is adult education. Some people think that term is synonymous with job-training.

What a dull definition! We cannot vibrate in the center of our beings with the dream of a raise in pay. We are only moved to action by visions and goals that inspire our imaginations. A proper project for adult education is to learn, in a humanistic way, to contribute through our own acts to that collective being to which we all belong to acquire harmony and global consciousness. And to a degree that would have surprised me eighteen months ago when I returned to Canada, that is beginning to happen. The peace movement, together with the women's movement, is the most important adult education activity in Canada today. Like all really important processes of adult education, it is essentially teacherless. In it we are all trying to learn something totally new. We are all learners together. Peace is not a class with a textbook, a professor, and a grade at the end.

To better recognize what the peace movement is up to, we should think less in terms of peace education, and more about the ways we learn peace. Each of us has a memory full of personal experience to share and analyze; in so doing we educate ourselves and one another mutually.

My own memory is full of the world as seen from Venezuela. I left Canada in 1963, worked in the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States, and then spent seventeen years in Venezuela. In Caracas one can see a global process of integration going on within the human race, as different waves

of European, North American, and Asian influences resonate with the Caribbean, African, Spanish, and Andean cultural presence. There, better than here, one can sense the development of a global consciousness. And from Caracas my impression of the Canadian peace movement was at best ambivalent.

From Venezuela, the peace movement of North American and European countries, as reflected in the wire service stories, seemed only a reflex action to the White House/Kremlin polarity, rather than any contribution to the weaving of a truly intercultural human web.

There are Real Live Wars Now

In Caracas, the most important contemporary political events are seen as those surrounding the failure of the attempted North-South dialogue for a new economic world order. North Americans, on the other hand, seemed far removed from that global consciousness; their focus was limited to the interplay between the superpowers - the accelerated arms race, Reagan's attempt to interpret the Nicaraguan revolution as Soviet expansionism, and the American withdrawal from UNESCO. It was tempting to write such concerns off as the last gasps of a dinosaur about to die of its own weight.

This "new" peace movement, according to the headlines and news items, was all tied up in those issues - MX and cruise missiles, and SALT failures - and totally uninterested in the real live wars going on in Southern Africa, Central America, Asia, and between Iraq and Iran. The peace movement appeared caught up in the same old North Atlantic ethnocentrism that ought to be in its death throes. Maybe the Geneva stalemate and the millions of West German peace marchers were part of those death throes. Why study a North Atlantic mass movement? Wasn't the job of adult education, above all, to help the human race escape the grips of the superpower world view?

But having been in Canada now for eighteen months, I have reversed my opinion of the peace movement. Only within it have I met Canadians who are actively engaged in trying to break out of the North Atlantic cultural straitjacket. Everyone else seems caught up in trying to demonstrate Canadian superiority by "helping" the rest of the world, rather than joining it.

The activists working in the Canadian peace movement are engaged in learning together without a planned curriculum and without a teacher. They are engaged in developing the society's collective consciousness with methods identical to those we have been using throughout Latin America.

During most of my seventeen years in Venezuela I have worked in a group of organizations that are part of the "popular education" movement now growing in that Southern part of the hemisphere. I have worked in a university's adult education department called the "Center of Experimentation for Continuous Learning."

The Center's approach to adult education stems from the fact that a country lacking resources to teach its children can certainly not afford to provide them to its adults. The logical thing to do, then, was to help adults organize to learn what they wanted without the benefit of teachers. In the ensuing dozen years since beginning this project we found that the major obstacle we adults face when organizing to learn together is the difficulty most of us have in seeing our own lives as learning resources. Significant learning starts when we begin to see life as a teacher and each of our lives as a personalized class, whose lesson we might miss if we don't pay attention.

The Peace Movement as Adult Education

Our beliefs about learning are dominated by our experiences in educational institutions, where we study one topic at a time - math one hour, psychology the next, and so on. But in real life, we learn all kinds of things at the same time. While doing something new, we not only take in information about the new activity and the context in which we perform it, but we also learn new things about ourselves. Moreover, the new activity may change our perspective about remote matters as well. For example, after taking up cross country skiing, I find myself expressing opinions about the Maori people's right to uncontaminated sailing space in the South Pacific -opinions I never knew I had, expressed with surprising passion.

The educational value of many peace movement activities may be much more far-reaching than is immediately apparent. For any given activity, whether licking stamps, chairing a meeting, or organizing civil disobedience, a peace group does well to ask not just what its external effect may be or who will do it best, but also who may get the most out of doing it.

Thus we should broaden our view of what constitutes "peace movement" activities. We can learn about peace while engaged in a host of apparently unrelated activities. It is becoming clear now that the relationship of the peace movement with the women's movement or with the liberation movements of other oppressed peoples is mutually supportive. To support the expansion of peace-awareness in our lives, we have only to pay attention, act experimentally, and give ourselves the opportunity to try out new postures and perspectives.

We learn in more ways than we usually recognize. However, this docs not mean that we learn better when we are unconscious of how we do it. On the contrary, we can dramatically improve our learning as we become better aware of it. The process of becoming conscious of our learning is difficult, however, and in it we need the help of our friends. In this society we are trained to think that planning and evaluation are the teacher's job, not ours. Hence, serious development of our "learning-consciousness" is next-to-impossible without a learning support group.

Fortunately, the small-group structure typical of most peace organizations is ideally suited for such learning support. All we need do is set aside some time to talk together about (or write about) our own learning experiences. Often this occurs occasionally and informally. That's fine. Much better is when it becomes regular and fully recognized as an important part of the organization's life.

But as learners, I think we should aim for much more than informed public opinion. We should aim beyond even the awakening of an international conscience. We can and should, I think, aim at becoming a school of fish in the cosmic ocean.

Peace Magazine December 1985

Peace Magazine December 1985, page 26. Some rights reserved.

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