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The Development of a Culture of Peace through Elementary Schools in Canada

Ashley Ward

In North America, during the last several years, the media has begun to have an even greater impact on childrenís way of thinking. This is evident in many areas, such as how children view violence. The media tends to glamorize violence in several different mediums, through music, television, the Internet, movies, and also childrenís toys and games.

In the past, when technology was not readily available to children, these topics were not as regularly occurring in childrenís lives. Now, the most common childrenís hobbies are playing video games, watching television and movies, listening music, and surfing the net, all of which often contain themes of violence. The internet has made it possible for children to access any information they want and without adult supervision they are able to view violent and even pornographic websites. Video games are also contributing widely to depicting violence as fun and exciting. The most popular games amongst youth include soldiers in war scenes to most recent games with players as game members and criminals who may even purchase a prostitute for more points in the game. However, it can be thought that these are only cartoon like depictions and therefore children may realize that these ideals should not be extended into reality. Having real life role models who are involved in violent behaviour is particularly detrimental to creating a culture of peace. In music, the most popular songs often contain themes of violence, gang behaviour, and even violence towards women. With children striving about it, how are they to know that this behaviour is widely unacceptable in our societies? When they are sensitized to conflict and violence, and view it as exciting or glamorous, how can they understand the impact of violence on real lives?

I believe that as an educator of children I have a role in teaching children about peaceful behaviour. I need to be a positive role model for children by showing them peaceful ways of thinking and behaving. In Canada the topic of piece is to be covered in each elementary school grade through our social studies curriculum. As teachers we strive to include peace education in our daily classroom activities and we also do specific lesson plans covering the topic of peace education, such as studying peaceful movements or specific individuals. Some of the ways in which peaceful behaviour and understanding is developed through daily classroom activities are as follows:

Teachers need to act as role models each day in the classroom. The way a teacher behaves has an enormous amount of impact on the way a child will behave. Teachers need to display peaceful behaviour at all times and one simple way this can be done is to not raise your voice. If teachers consistently raise their voices, then students will follow this example and do so as well. There are many other strategies that can be used to studentís attention such as hand clapping, or asking the students to raise their hands and then not speaking until each child has done so. Treating students respectfully is important as well. If a student is treated with respect by their teacher it gives them encouragement to treat others with respect as well.

Setting up classroom rules on the first day of the year is a way to begin establishing a peaceful environment in the classroom. This is done by asking the students to collaborate together on what rules they think need to be in place in order for the classroom to be a peaceful and productive working environment. The teacher may ask the children to describe or draw what a peaceful classroom looks like and then later these can be used as a reminder to the children. As well as developing the rules, the children with the teacherís guidance, should also decide on the consequences for breaking the rules. This way there is no misunderstanding about what is unacceptable behaviour. By having the children involved in developing these rules and consequences students have a means of actively participating in the development of a peaceful classroom.

Reward systems are commonly used in schools and classrooms in Canada. These reward systems come in various forms but the end goal is always to encourage positive behaviour. For example, in an elementary school I was volunteering at this year, there was a school wide reward system. Students would receive yellow forms from their teachers if they had committed what was considered a minor offence (such as disruptive behaviour or uncompleted work) and a red form for what was considered behaviour). Three yellow forms received was also the equivalent of one red form. The principal kept track of these forms as each time a student was given a form they had to have a meeting with the principal and later have their parents sign the form. At the end of each month there was a reward for the schoolchildren such as a school trip or an exciting event organized at the school. These events would be free of cost to the children and the teacherís would fundraise for these monthly events. However, any students who had received a red form that month were not permitted to attend the reward day, and instead had to complete schoolwork in their classroom. This system seemed to be working, as by the end of the year the number of red forms was down significantly as compared to the start of the year. Students were encouraged to behave appropriately by this system, wanting to join their peers and enjoy the reward day as the others were doing so.

Schools in Canada usually also have peer mediator programs. In each classroom in the upper elementary levels a teacher is asked to choose 3 or 4 students to act as peer mediators for that classroom. A member of the schools staff, usually the guidance counselor, then trains these peer mediators. They are trained in conflict prevention and resolution and it becomes their role to use their new skills in the classroom, on the playground, even outside of school. When a conflict develops between students these peer mediators try to help the students resolve the issue before it develops into a greater problem. Peer mediator programs have taught children the skills they need for conflict prevention and resolution.

Many Canadian schools also have what is called zero tolerance policies for violent behaviour. This means that there is a consequences in place for violent behaviour and if a student violates a rule, there is a consequences that immediately applies to that student, regardless of any reasons why the student may feel the act was justified. For example, there may be a zero tolerance policy for physical fighting with the consequences of suspension for 2 days, even if they were just defending themselves and do not feel they deserve the consequences. Zero tolerance policies cause students to understand what is acceptable behaviour. They are aware that there is no tolerance for this behaviour in the school, which can be extended into understanding how there is no tolerance for certain behaviour in our society and world.

The above ideas are just some of the small steps towards a culture of peace we are taking in schools in Canada. By putting ideas like this into practice we are hoping to create ideas about peaceful living for the children of our society. It is also important to do specific lessons on peace related topics to help children understand why peaceful living must be extended from the classroom to society and to the world. Our children are the leaders for our future and it is through them I hope to create a culture of peace.

Ashley Ward
C/o. Vikas Gora,
Arthik Samata Mandal
Atheist Centre, Benz Circle
Vijaywada 520 010
Andhra Pradesh, India
Email: ashleyj_ward@hotmail.com

Source : Paper presented at 'International Seminar On Culture of Peace and Non-violence', Wardha, October 7-9, 2005

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