Making Peace a Real Possibility: Video Interview with Betty Reardon (1985)

Betty Reardon 1985 Interview

 “… we have to decide that …  [establishing peace] is what we want to do.” – Betty Reardon

Editor’s Introduction

This second post in Cycle 2 of the 90K for 90 Years / Issues and Themes in 6 Decades of Peacelearning series, is a complement to the first post in this cycle, “Militarism and Sexism: Influences on Education for War.”  This video, recorded in 1985, was likely viewed only by those who followed Prof. John Whitely’s (University of California, Irvine) series of interviews, “The Quest for Peace,” and perhaps some who stumbled upon it on YouTube where I found it several months ago. It seemed to me a good summary of Betty’s early work in gender and peace education and might be a useful addition to this review of her contributions to the development of the field.  Betty’s Contemporary Commentary expresses appreciation of the video series and Prof. Whitely’s framing and conduct of the interview. She also notes how some of the hopes for peace education she held at the time were so hearteningly fulfilled by the ideas and actions illustrated in another recent GCPE post on “(Re)Thinking and (Re)Inventing Sustainable Peace and Human Rights Educational Practices.”

-The Editors (Feb 14, 2019)


[icon name=”file-pdf-o” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] download a transcript of this video

Contemporary Commentary

By Betty Reardon

This 1985 interview was conducted several years after the publication of “Militarism and Sexism: Influences on Education for War” (the last post in this 90k series), and shortly before the publication of Sexism and the War System in that same year. It took place during that year’s International Institute on Peace Education at the University of California-Irvine. In a precursor to the interviews of peace activists now circulated by World BEYOND War, Professor Whitely taped a series of interviews of people actively involved in the “Quest for Peace.” I was attracted to the concept of quest, of exploring possibilities of potential responses to the war/peace problematic, rather than proposing or espousing particular solutions. While some of his questions called for prescriptive answers, they are clearly posed so as to elicit responses ascribed only to me, not to the field of peace education in general. He interviewed in a manner consistent with peace education as a process of inquiry. Familiar with issues I had addressed in those years, he posed questions that allowed me to articulate some of the key concepts that were becoming the foundation of the work that evolved into a comprehensive gender and human security framework that has informed my work on gender in peace education over this last decade. I argued that there is an essential and integral relationship between sexism and militarism, and that both depend on threat and force as the mechanisms that maintain them, and other interrelated forms of institutionalized violence among which I included, at that time, racism and colonialism, later adding more forms. I assert still the need to consider those interrelationships in analyzing and proposing solutions to any and all institutionalized violence. The references to disarmament education reflect some of the substance of the foundations of peace education pedagogy that derived from world order studies. Samples of that foundation to initiate learning toward transforming the world order to one manifesting the core principals of human dignity and planetary vitality were offered in an earlier post on the curriculum unit on “Peacekeeping.”

This “Quest for Peace” interview probes my views on how human differences are distorted from positive social resource to a mechanism to rationalize the hierarchical global order that I believe to be rooted in patriarchy, and continues to affect education throughout the world. The tone of the interview is hopeful, an attitude sorely tested in the intervening years. Even in the face of some of the daunting new challenges our current times have posed, there is much to validate that hope in recent world politics. Among the most hope inducing developments I find: the growing participation of women in peace and security matters, starting with the adoption in 2000 of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its companion resolutions that have focused on the need to confront the violence against women that is integral to war and armed conflict; the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons; European youth rising to demand action on climate change; US students of Parkland, Florida’s national movement to end gun violence; and the Poor People’s Campaign that links the multiple forms of violence identified by Dr. King, adding to them the climate crisis for a truly comprehensive view of the peace and justice problematic.

All these hopeful developments are grist for the mill of education for peaceful change, steps toward a preferred future. In particular, the comprehensive view of the Poor People’s Campaign presents an opportunity and a challenge for peace education to become part of that change process. It provides the substance for an inquiry into the system that produced the problems it addresses and for speculation on possible alternative to that system. It also provides an opening to an inquiry into how the Campaign might become a truly transformative movement, were it, for instance, to factor gender into its problem definition and proposals for change. Might we not inquire into how a gender perspective on each of the issues it addresses be used to develop an integrating framework in which to interrelate the issues and illuminate the ethical dimension they seek to introduce into the public discourse?  It poses challenge to the present order in moral terms, a challenge that I asserted in the interview, is rooted in the distribution and organization of power, dividing the world into the privileged and the deprived. Gender inequality in its many manifestations pervades that power order and serves as the essential link among the oppressions it imposes through force and fear. As with armed force, economic force, once monopolized by those at the top the hierarchy, is now being manifest by various fearless peoples’ movements such as those noted here, a manifestation that demonstrates not only hope, for but the possibility of change. That this force takes mainly nonviolent forms is another sign of hope in these daunting days.

Most certainly there are hopeful developments in peace education, demonstrating that it not only prepares for, but can be part of the change process. Vibrant evidence thereof is to be found in the video produced by Gal Harmat on (Re)Thinking and (Re)Inventing Sustainable Peace and Human Rights Educational Practices. Should you give any thought to the observations on education articulated in this interview, please take a second look at the practices highlighted in Gal’s film.  In 1985 I would have referred to these practices as a “relevant utopia,” or a “preferred future” for peace education, an illustration of positive possibilities, an image of a utopia that guides its proponents toward making their preferred future a reality. The pedagogies described in Gal’s seminar are a fulfillment of a belief in the possible that underlay my hope in people in general, and in peace education in particular, as Professor Whitley noted it did in 1985 and still does 2019. These peace educators are saying “Yes, to what is.” They are validating the prescient observation of the late Kenneth Boulding, a founder of peace research that “Anything that exists is possible!”

While the learnings of the years between this interview and the present have refined and specified my ideas on the culture of violence that upholds the patriarchal global power order, as with other postings in this series, there are elements here to be revisited in terms of what peace education faces at the end of this second decade of the 21st Century. The following inquiry derives from points made in the interview that I find to be relevant to today’s discourses on peace education as well as on gender and peace. It is posed in three of the dimensions of a world order framework of inquiry: 1) projecting a possible and preferred future or “relevant utopia,” the best we can conceptualize; 2) assessing the present to diagnose obstacles to the realization of the preferred future; 3) and designing strategies to overcome the obstacles, harnessing social and political movements toward making the possible probable. Through all stages, I would assert, there is a need to take into account the power order and how it might be transformed into one based on human equality and reverence for and respect for the integrity of all life and for the Earth that sustains it.

Inquiring into a Preferred Future from a Dystopian Present

It is suggested that those interested in pursuing the inquiry, read through the queries below for an overview of the process and to determine which of the issues raised might produce the most instructive discussion for their particular class or group.

1. Envisioning a Preferred Future: “…bringing forth the capacity to deal with unprecedented.”

What is your preferred future or “relevant utopia” for peace education, i.e. what reforms and changes would make it possible to provide effective and appropriate peace education in public schools? What aspects of the power order might be considered as an alternative to the present one? Do any of your ideas for change accord with statements made in the interview? How would you integrate gender issues and the utility of nonviolence as a basic social ethos into your vision of peace education so that might peace education itself might be part of a process of transformational global change? What learnings would be required of peace educators to integrate education into a possible global transformation process? Which elements of practice illustrated in Gal Harmat’s video might be part of your preferred future for peace education? Is the standard power dynamic of education affected by the approaches illustrated? If so, how?

2. Diagnosing the Dystopian Present: “…success is acknowledging and behaving according to the rules laid down by the authority.”

Why might the state of public education be of concern to peace educators? Do you believe that the present power arrangement is manifest in education? Do you see evidence that intersections of militarism and sexism, of sexism and racism, and of militarism and racism affect education at present? What interrelationships and interlinkages can you discern between the pairs of problems as posed and among and between all of the problems listed here? Are there relationships of all of these problems to the climate crisis? Do you think that these interrelationships should be factored into the diagnosis of the present peace education problematic?

How might the achievement of a preferred future for peace education be affected by the trend toward the privatization of education? What goals and values do you see in this trend, and how do they relate to the values which inform your preferred future for peace education? What are the obstacles that current institutions or systems of education might pose to realizing the whole or any aspect of your preferences?

Do you think the causes of peace and gender equality have advanced or been pushed back over the last three and half decades? What trends and development seem to indicate progress or retreat? What political conditions prevailed during these last 30 years that formed the social and psychological environments influencing advances and retreats? Consider the following:

In 1985 there was still some strong energy in the disarmament movement as evidenced by the World Disarmament Campaign, mentioned in this interview, undertaken by the UN as consequence of civil society lobbying the 1982 Second Special Session on Disarmament. In 2019, even in the face of the nuclear test ban treaty (or perhaps because of it) arms expenditures are at an all-time high, and violence against women if not more frequent is more visible. What recent developments regarding nuclear weapons constitute potential obstacles to peace through disarmament (i.e. Iran, North Korea, Russia and the United States announcements and positions on negotiations and treaties)? What obstacles and challenges do these developments pose to your preferred peace education future?

In 1981 the UN adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In 2018 the government of Saudi Arabia arrested a Saudi woman living abroad, after her action to gain the right to drive for women. They returned her to the country where she has been imprisoned and there is evidence that she and other women’s human rights advocates have been tortured. This is but one instance of severe violence against women by authoritarian and militarized states. Review media reports of such violence against women and persons of non-binary identity that happen frequently in those nations, including some in Europe and North America, in which democracy has been eroding, often in the name of “traditional values.” What patterns can be discerned among these incidents?  Do you believe that learning to discern such patterns is important in overcoming the present obstacles to the future you prefer for peace education?

3. Learning as Transition Strategy: “…recognition of common interests and consensus [as foundations of peace]”

Peacelearning is about acquiring the capacities to make the possible probable and the preferred possible, the two core tasks to be undertaken in the pursuit of change. Given your diagnosis of present obstacles what are the major learnings that we peace educators should pursue as integral to our transition strategies toward the achievement of our preferences?

Do you agree with the assertion made in the interview that making connections among the various forms of oppression are necessary to the deliberation of solutions to sexism and militarism and other related problems, or, as asserted, that making connections among all forms of institutionalized violence is essential to overcome obstacles to transformation? What alternative courses of action might be taken to overcome these obstacles? What agents other than, but including, teachers might be enlisted in efforts to transform the obstacles into more positive conditions for peacelearning at all levels of formal education?

In what ways might peace education respond to the new arms races (both the weaponry races and that to control information media) and apparent increased incidence of racist and gender violence (meant here to mean harms to persons because their gender identities are other than heterosexual male, or they are vulnerable to forms of toxic masculinity)? Might we perceive and identify interlinkages among and between the multiple forms and various victims of gender violence and their positions in the political and social hierarchies in which they take place?  Why might it be important to perceive such patterns and relationships and how they are arranged in the global hierarchy? Consider the following:

In 1985 while there was little connection between the movements for gender equality and for racial equality, The Convention on all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was evidence of an emerging connection between the local and global in women’s movement. In January 2019 the Black Women’s Blue Print in collaboration with NYC4CEDAW, a New York City civil society group supporting CEDAW, submitted a letter to the New York City Charter Revision Commission on the need to include gender discrimination in their deliberations. The action inextricably interrelates racism and sexism and links local to global. What can we learn from this development that might contribute to a comprehensive transition strategy?  If this development stems from an application of the concept of intersectionality to political advocacy, how might the multiple intersections cited in this inquiry be orchestrated into a comprehensive system change strategy toward global transformation? Will your preferred future for peace education integrate into that strategy? Will it be part of a “new wave of humanity”?

Read the series: “Issues and Themes in 6 Decades of Peacelearning: Examples from the Work of Betty Reardon”

“Issues and Themes in 6 Decades of Peacelearning” is a series of posts by Betty Reardon supporting our “$90k for 90” campaign honoring Betty’s 90th year of life and seeking to create a sustainable future for the Global Campaign for Peace Education and International Institute on Peace Education (see this special message from Betty).

This series explores Betty’s lifetime of work in peace education through three cycles; each cycle introducing a special focus of her work. These posts, including comments from Betty, highlight and share selected resources from her archives, housed at The University of Toledo.

Cycle 1 features Betty’s efforts from the 1960s through the ‘70s focused on developing peace education for schools.

Cycle 2 features Betty’s efforts from the ’80s and ‘90s, a period highlighted by the internationalization of the peace education movement, the formation of the academic field, the articulation of Comprehensive Peace Education and the emergence of gender as an essential element in peace education.


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