Book Review – Educating for peace and human rights: An introduction

Educating for peace and human rights: An introduction, by Maria Hantzopoulos and Monisha Bajaj, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2021, 192 pp., US $36.95 (softcover), US $110.00 (hardback), US $33.25 (e-book), ISBN 978-1-350-12974-0.

Available for purchase via Bloomsbury

In the past several decades, human rights education and peace education have each grown as scholarly fields in significant and distinct ways.  In Educating for peace and human rights: An introduction, Maria Hantzopoulos and Monisha Bajaj draw on their years of academic and practitioner experience in these fields to provide an overview of each of the two areas, as well as to explore the overlaps and syntheses between them.  In doing so, they have written an excellent introductory text that extends our understandings of each and serves as a platform for continuing to move scholars and practitioners forward in their study and implementation of peace and human rights education.

The book’s six chapters provide separate foundations for understanding the fields of peace and human rights education as a prelude to bridging the two.  Chapter 1 introduces peace education, historically and in terms of contemporary issues in the field; chapter 2 then draws upon two examples from peace education initiatives in the United States to illustrate the concepts outlined in the previous chapter.  Chapters 3 and 4 take a similar approach: the authors introduce the history and breadth of the field of human rights education in chapter 3 prior to illustrating transformative human rights education through two examples (one from India and one from Bangladesh) in chapter 4.  In both chapters 2 and 4, the examples chosen reflect both formal and non-formal educational contexts. In chapter 5, the authors juxtapose the fields of peace and human rights education, examining the intersections between them as part of the broader umbrella of “liberatory education,” which also includes the area of social justice education. The authors briefly sketch out the tenets of liberatory education as a whole, then focus in more depth on discussing the concepts of dignity and agency and their centrality to achieving the aims of liberatory education.  Finally, chapter 6 is structured as a conversation among leaders in the fields of peace and human rights education, all of whom are on the advisory board of the new book series that this text introduces. This conversation addresses key contributions to the fields of peace and human rights education, pressing questions for scholarship and practice in these areas, and advice (for scholars, students and practitioners) – thus ending the book not as a conclusion, per se, but rather as a platform for additional dialogue.  Also included in the text is a thorough annotated bibliography of foundational and contemporary scholarship in peace education and human rights education.

Educating for peace and human rights: An introduction builds on previous texts by the two authors, but it truly shines as a way of introducing students new to these areas of education.  Of particular importance is the care that Bajaj and Hantzopoulos take both to present the historical emergence of peace education and human rights education and to build on discussions of these historical foundations, with an emphasis a focus on critical and decolonial elements of these fields. This approach is central also in the chapter looking at intersections between peace and human rights education: Bajaj and Hantzopoulos discuss historical approaches to conceptualizing dignity and agency as part of their foregrounding of the concepts as central to liberatory education broadly in terms of how they address issues of power, critical consciousness, and transformation.  This attention to both historical trajectories and to the more recent focus on critical and decolonial dimensions is essential for providing students new to these areas with a thorough understanding of what has led to the current states of peace and human rights education, and how the fields have been influenced by different schools of thought.

However, it is the last chapter of the book that does the most to distinguish this text.  The inclusion of multiple voices – members of the book series advisory board, many of whom are cited throughout the text – models in substance the very tenets of peace education and human rights education that the authors discuss in the preceding chapters. In bringing in these voices, as well as in framing the chapter as a dialogue among them, Bajaj and Hantzopoulos move away from the notion of author as authority, instead embodying a model of authors as facilitators and encouraging additional dialogue (to occur, at least in part, through additional books in this new series).  It is both refreshing and highly unusual to see an introductory text, even in these areas of study and practice, be written so as to model an approach that embodies the arguments it makes.

If there is anything that might be improved upon, inclusion of additional examples (rather than presenting two short case studies each of peace education and human rights education programs) could serve to strengthen this already very strong text.  The four examples presented, as Bajaj and Hantzopoulos note, provide “a small window” into the possibilities of critical peace education and human rights education programs oriented towards liberation and transformation.  And clearly, there is a balance to be found between too few illustrative examples and too many, especially in a book oriented towards breadth of issues and concepts as it introduces readers to these two interconnected fields.  However, it is precisely because the authors aim to illustrate both interconnections between peace education and human rights education, and the ways in which these fields diverge, that a few additional examples would be helpful.  In particular, additional examples could provide further insight into some of the distinctions between these two areas, which, given the particular interests of the authors, are less emphasized than the many similarities between them.

Still, Educating for peace and human rights: An introduction is a valuable contribution, charting the historical overview of both fields as well as providing a thorough overview of more recent approaches and a nuanced discussion of integration across the two areas.  In addition to serving as a foundation for a promising series of books in these areas of study and practice, this text will be of use to a wide range of readers, including professors and students of peace/human rights education, classroom teachers, and practitioners in these fields.

Karen Ross
University of Massachusetts-Boston
[email protected]

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