Paxeducare’s Blog

What the Future Holds: Trends in Peace Education
January 17, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Submitted January 17, 2013 as an essay for the Global Campaign for Peace Education newsletter

What the Future Holds: Trends in Peace Education

Mary Lee Morrison


                Delving into research through reading, deep listening and conversing over the past few years in  preparation for the publication this year of a book[i] , I have found cause for hope for the learning and teaching of peace. However as educators we will also be faced with significant challenges in the decades to come. I see the following themes emerging for our work:  1) we are going to have to learn to live he idea of uncertainty; 2) we will be required to teach toward building resilience; 3) the concepts of community and social capital will increasingly be important and 4) we and our students must develop the skills of visioning and action toward a hopeful future.  These themes are set against a backdrop of a significant  in increase the development of the field, yielding an exponential rise in interest in and in the number of programs in peace education and peace studies.

In 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr., in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, quoting the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, said “we live in a day when civilization is shifting its basic outlook, a turning point in which the presuppositions in which society is structured are being profoundly changed”[ii]. King noted that we must remain awake through profound periods of change. A prophetic statement indeed. We are, in 2013, in such a period, the outcomes of which are indeterminate. Yet non action is not an alternative. The effects of global climate change are now becoming all too real. It is unclear whether greenhouse gas emissions will produce a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature by the end of the century, even with mitigation and adaptation, or whether this will be more like 6 degrees. A leading U.S. accounting conglomerate is banking on the latter, which we know could be catastrophic for certain segments of the global population, particularly the poor and vulnerable. This scenario will include a several feet rise in sea level, increasingly acidic oceans,  increased drought world-wide and rising food prices. We can anticipate increased violence as conflicts over limited resources among the expected 9 billion people may erupt in the decades to come.

Philosopher Charles Eisenstein, in a recent blog essay [iii], notes that we, at least in  the U.S. and Western culture, seem to find ourselves in the “space between stories”. Old ways of being, doing, being and interacting are no longer working. More and more people believe that civilization is not on the right track. We do not have faith in nor believe those institutions who used to hold up standards for us: scientists, politicians, our educational institutions. We once thought technology could solve everything. This “story” is going through death throes now. The extremes cry out to us, even as we, as a species, as far as “negative peace”[iv] is concerned, are more peaceful.[v] Human separation-the idea of the individual as supreme,  our culture of patriarchy and dominance-the utter senselessness of events such as the Sandy Hook massacre (which happened very close to my home in Hartford, CT) show us the extremes of human behavior, at times the negation  of our humanity. At the same time such tragedies often bring us together after these events in ways that in our day to day lives we do not experience. Witness the outpouring of support and love following the killing of 26 on that recent day in  Connecticut. We try and find a narrative, reasons for such disasters, be it the need for more gun control, mental health services, looking for some illusion of control in this period of ideological breakdown. Yet there is no adequate, complete story for what is going on. We are, as Eisenstein notes, left “naked”. The stories have yet to unfold. And in this I believe there lies hope. As Vandana Shiva, the Indian ecologist, reminds us “the uncertainty of our time is no reason to be certain about hopelessness.”[vi] We are the creators of our own stories of the future.

The Transition movement[vii] is articulating well the increasing need to teach toward resilience in the face of climate change, environmental degradation and world economic dysfunction. Adaptability is key here, as pure mitigation of the effects of carbon emissions will not be enough. A new form of creating wealth is being established, one not based on financial wealth, but on human well being based on relationships, care and in the spirit of community. Less overall full time employment, learning to live with less, can mean increased time with family, with engagement with neighbors and communities. The sharing of basic skills with one another is going to be important including those skills our grandparents knew and are still being used around the world in the less “developed” world-gardening, cooking, carpentry, sewing, all leading toward the building of the foundations of community.

The roots of the word community go back centuries to an Indo-European base mei, meaning “change” or “exchange”. Apparently this joined with another root word kom to produce an Indo-European word kommein or “exchange with”. So community means sharing, exchanging, so that change can happen. And there can be no sharing or exchanging without humans being in relationship with one another. Therefore we as peace educators must continue to teach the skills of dialogue, conversation and conflict resolution. Our survival as a species will depend on this. We must care for one another, requiring both short and long term commitments. Caring for one another also means caring for the earth and creating conditions so that present needs can be met without compromising those of future generations. As blogger Lynn McTaggart tells us, our biggest delusion may be that we have a collective assumption that individual aspirations and achievements can serve the common good. [viii] In reality, we will be nowhere without community.

Scientists are now recognizing that social capital is going to be as important as  technological mitigation to build resilience for our future. A recent New Yorker article compared two inner city Chicago, Illinois neighborhoods following a 1995 intensive heat wave in the city. The two communities are geographically situated side by side and demographically very similar. The community in which many fewer residents died, even fewer than in more affluent Chicago neighborhoods, turned out to contain “sidewalks, stores, restaurants and organizations bringing people into contact with friends and neighbors”. [ix] The other neighborhood had been basically abandoned. President Obama three years ago appointed an officer for preparedness and response in the White House. A former professor of health policy, Assistant Secretary Nichole Lurie is quoted as saying  “promoting community resilience is now front and center in our approach”.[x] Real security rests on human security-knowing our neighbors and looking out for them.

Finally, the creation of our future will require widely shared visions of a world with radically different planetary conditions.  We know that we can no longer mitigate all of the egregious effects of continued carbon emission and the associated changes due to climate chaos, despite our technological know-how.  An earth restored (albeit restored in ways we do not yet know) is far in the future but we must plan for this. This change in perspective to a long-term view, is, as environmental educator David Orr and others note, going to be the greatest challenge we face.[xi] It is one in which education must play an integral and key role. It will inevitably be a matter of change in our hearts and minds. It will not be enough to use hybrid cars, continue to recycle and reduce waste. These are all important. It will also involve action and policy changes. And we must act now.

David Orr reminds us that how we got to where we are now, in our present state of planetary emergency, is not the result of the work of ignorant people, but, for the most part, highly educated MBA’s and PhDs. The designers of the Holocaust were, as an example, the heirs of Kant and Goethe. Education does not serve as a barrier to egregious actions nor guarantee decency. More of the same kind of knowledge cannot get us out of the fix we are in. One aim of education should not be only subject matter knowledge but mastery of one’s own person or, as environmental theologian Frans Verhagen tells us, fostering our own “ecological identity”, finding our unique place in this world of wonder so that we can become truly human.[xii] This is inherently a spiritual process.

The maintenance of hope, as well as crucial knowledge building, visioning and action, will be the task of educators in the next decades. As Orr notes, hope means putting aside resistance to that we don’t wish to face and just getting down to business. And these visioning and imaging skills can be taught. Over the past couple of years I have begun to adapt the work of sociologist Elise Boulding, who pioneered workshops with Warren Zeigler on Imaging a World Without Weapon in the 1980s.[xiii] Boulding rested her philosophy of imaging on the work of the Dutch futurist Fred Polak, whose pioneering work in the 1950s showed that positive visions of the future empower action and that those societies lacking vision experience social decay. [xiv] The current theme of my workshops are “Building Resilience In a Time of Transition: Imaging a Fossil Free Future”. Over a period of hours, a day or two days, participants are led through a series of exercises to create and to structure the future. In an experiential and sharing mode individuals then create action plans to move into this future. Some find this process easier than others. For some, getting beyond the despair and hopelessness is more difficult.

I conclude with a quote from Emily Jean Balch, an excerpt from her 1948 Nobel Peace Prize speech:

We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the corner. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work and to cherish large and generous ideals.[xv]


[i]Ian  Harris and Mary Lee Morrison,  Peace Education 3rd edition, McFarland and Co., Inc., 2013,  Foreward by Tony Jenkins.

[ii]Retrieved January 16th, 2013

[iii] Retrieved January 16, 2013

[iv] By “negative peace” is meant the stopping of violence, one conceptual way of describing peace. “Positive peace”, on the other hand,  involves following standards of justice, living within a balance of nature, providing meaningful opportunities for civic engagement.

[v] see Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature (New York: Viking, 2011).

[vi] Found at the Transition Culture web site. Retrieved January 6, 2013

[vii] Transition Network, retrieved January;  16, 2013; see also the Tellus Institute

[viii] Retrieved January 16th, 2013

[ix] Eric Klineberg, “Department of Urban Planning: Adaptation”, The New Yorker, January 7 (2013), 35.

[x] Ibid., 35.

[xi] David Orr, “What is Education For? Six Myths About the Foundations of Modern Education and Six New Principles to Replace Them, retrieved January 16, 2013


[xii] Frans Verhagen, “Ecological Identity”. Earth and Peace Education Associates Newsletter 5 (2010), retrieved June 12, 2012

[xiii] see Elise Boulding,  Building a Global Civic Culture: Education for an Interdependent World (New York: Teachers College, 1988). I have been collaborating in this work with Tony Jenkins, Vice-President for Academic Affairs at the National Peace Academy.

[xiv] Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, trans. Elise Boulding, abridged version (San Francisco: Jossey Bass/Elsevier, 1972).

[xv]Retrieved January 16, 2013



Mary Lee Morrison is an educator and author whose current interests include the intersection between peace, ecology, equity and justice, sustainable food systems and our current economic system.  Dr. Morrison founded and is the  President Emeritus of Pax Educare, Inc., the Connecticut Center for Peace Education.  She is a currently an edu-learner faculty member of the National Peace Academy and teaches courses at the Connecticut based Graduate Institute Master’s Program in Conflict Transformation. She has taught courses ranging from  cultural and global perspectives,  educational psychology, history, philosophy and social foundations of education and global sustainability at several universities including the University of Connecticut, the University of Hartford, Saint Joseph University and Central Connecticut State University.   She has developed and implemented peacelearning curricula for educators and youth in schools, after-school programs and in community settings and frequently guest lectures on peace and sustainability for university classes and the public. She has authored several books including the recent publication of the 3rd edition (with Ian Harris) of Peace Education (McFarland and Co., Inc. 2013), Elise Boulding: A Life in the Cause of Peace (McFarland and Co., Inc. 2005) and numerous book chapters, essays and journal articles. She is an appointed member of the City of Hartford Advisory Commission on Food Policy and is an advocate for bicycling, walking, green city living, new economics and conversations at local farm markets. She lives in Hartford, CT. Her blog can be found at