Call to Action

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves, and, if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome direction, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Thomas Jefferson

What gives hope its power is not the accumulation of demonstrable facts, but the release of human energies generated by the longing for something better.

Norman Cousins

Teachers have the power to shape lives. More than members of any other profession, teachers have the ability to affect the future— a tremendous honor and responsibility.

Do you realize that as teachers we spend more time with students than many of their parents do? Teachers provide children with life-altering skills and make a staggering impact. Now we must rise to the call of another need—the need for new basic skills that will help children survive into the third millennium.

Our country is reeling from an increase in violence that affects all communities, large and small, urban and suburban, rich and poor. In his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence , Daniel Goleman wrote, "As a society we have not bothered to make sure every child is taught the essentials of handling anger or resolving conflict positively—nor have we bothered to teach empathy, impulse control, or any of the other fundamentals of emotional competence". Clearly, unless we teach children how to get along, everyone's future will be at risk.

The good news, however, is this: Things are slowly beginning to change. Teenagers in the South Bronx are learning to resolve differences nonviolently; kindergarten children in the suburbs are speaking "I messages"; and parents who attend peacemaking workshops are reinforcing peacemaking skills at home. More and more people are asking that peace and acceptance be taught in schools, not as an add-on to the curriculum, but as the foundation for success in all areas. In the words of Roger and David Johnson, "Teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn unless there is peace and order in the classroom."

Stephen O'Connor, author of Will My Name Be Shouted Out , said, "The single factor that most frustrates any teacher in reaching his or her goals is the relentless intrusion of social problems into the classroom". Teachers can do little to rectify the devastating home lives many children endure; but we can provide another reality when children are in school, creating an environment where they feel safe, accepted, nurtured, and respected. In this environment children can be taught alternatives to the violence that surrounds all of us, helping them perceive hopeful options for their futures.

How do we begin? A hard question. I believe we have to start with the basics, but at this time, the "basics" are not what they used to be. The changing texture of our complex and violent society has given way to the need for what I call "the new basics," without which children will have little chance of succeeding socially, emotionally, or academically. And what elements can we designate as the new basics? I suggest the following:

The New Basics: What Children Need to Succeed

sense of hope
respect for self and others
positive self-image
the ability to work cooperatively
a sense of empathy toward others
anger management skills
firm but fair consistent limits
strategies for resolving conflicts nonviolently
a sense of personal responsibility for one's behavior
the knowledge that our actions make a difference to the world around us
an understanding that violence in any form is not acceptable
How can teachers give these basics to children? By bringing peace education to every child in every classroom in every school throughout the country. You may ask, "What about parent involvement and community efforts to change things? The schools can't do it all." You're right, the schools can't do it all; but by teaching the skills of peacemaking teachers will take a crucial role in shaping America's future.

Is the order too tall? Is it too late? Have things gotten so far out of hand they've become hopeless? I think not. Norman Cousins once said, "The starting point for a better world is the belief that it is possible". As educators, we need much to believe that our children can have a better world, and that change is possible. And whom does a better world start with? It starts with each of us.

The future of this society may well rest in the hands of teachers. We need to do whatever we can to reshape the current course of violence and divisiveness in our children's futures, one moment at a time, one child at a time. Can we do it? I believe we can, one teacher at a time.


Copyright © 2002 by Naomi Drew. All rights reserved. Site Map