Tony Jenkins interview: No peace without peace education

The Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue has been uplifting the spirit of peace education through human dignity, dialogue, and global citizenship since its founding by Daisaku Ikeda in 1993. The Center’s mission is to build cultures of peace through learning and dialogue inspired by Buddhist humanism. You can learn more about the Ikeda Center’s peace education-related activities on its website. The Ikeda Center’s Mitch Bogen conducted this interview with Tony Jenkins, Coordinator of the Global Campaign for Peace Education, in May 2024.

(Reposted from: Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue. May 2024.)

Tony Jenkins is one of the world’s foremost experts on the theory and practice of peace education. Committed to participating in the field in as many ways as possible, Dr. Jenkins is an Assistant Professor in the Program on Justice and Peace Studies at Georgetown University, Managing Director of the International Institute on Peace Education, and the Coordinator of the Global Campaign for Peace Education. As this May 2024 interview with the Center’s Mitch Bogen reveals, however, these institutional contributions only hint at the depth of his commitment to the cause of creating cultures of peace and his appreciation for those who have paved the way for everyone working in the field today.

Early Inspirations and the Meaning-Making Path

Bogen: Thank you for joining me for this conversation, Tony. Let me begin by asking: How did you end up focusing on peace education? What were some of your early inspirations?

Jenkins: It’s kind of a long story, of course, as I think probably everyone’s story is to a certain degree. I think that, like most people that came into this work, of my generation and before, I don’t think that we knew that peace education and peace studies was a field, was an area of practice or academic study. I kind of stumbled into it, but was fortunate to have some people to give me guidance, to help me interpret and reflect and find meaning and purpose. So I think where it started for me, and I’ve been working this through in my mind a lot recently, comes back to a formative teaching experience that I had. As a student in college, I didn’t have a really clear sense of direction of where I wanted to go. The only thing I knew for sure was, I had a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the kind of educational experience I had up to that point, and this sense was mostly intuitive. I felt like something seemed to be missing there in terms of it being meaningful and preparing me for being in the world in a more critical way. And I stumbled into a course and it was a form of applied learning where the focus was on humanities and literature. But this course also introduced us to the work of Paulo Freire and other transformative critical peace educators. The applied component was taking what we were learning in the classroom and then working with various youth populations in educational settings — particularly marginalized youth. So some of my colleagues were working with youth who were adjudicated, and we ended up working with them in an after school program. And this was sort of an interesting experiment for us to apply some of these theoretical pedagogical principles and practice. My colleague and I chose to try to teach issues of social justice through photography. We were working with a group of students in Detroit. You know, digital photography, it didn’t exist yet and a lot of these kids had never held a camera before. So we had to kind of work through all the technical sides of that — but giving them another lens to sort of interpret and experience their world: to document it, to analyze it, to think about it more creatively and dynamically and transformatively.

So, short version of a long story here. They were working towards producing a storybook together and as we were finishing up this semester-long project with them, my co-teacher and I received a late-night call from one of the students that one of their classmates had been shot and killed in the crossfire of gang violence: wrong place, wrong time. A young mother who was at a roller skating rink just got caught in the crossfire. So the students were turning to us to try to make sense of what had happened, to try to make meaning from it. They were obviously grappling with their grief, their trauma, asking us what to do. And, you know, my colleague and I, neither of us ever experienced anything like this. It was traumatic to us. We were angry. We were frustrated. And all of a sudden we have this responsibility to help these students work through this grief. So this was the beginning of a number of journeys for me. I think at that point the thing I was grappling with the most was just trying to understand violence and what happened and what seemed like just sort of some random event and to try to contextualize it and understand it, and to channel my anger into some form of constructive action. 

So thankfully I had a strong mentor who helped me to reflect upon that experience and guide me along. And rather than just sort of leaving me to my own devices, one of the things that he did was invite me to join a project that he was working on in prisons, called the Prison Creative Arts Project, that he was just starting at that time. And this gentleman’s name was William “Buzz” Alexander, from the University of Michigan. He unfortunately passed away a few years ago, but he was a really remarkable human being. So I had a chance to work in a number of different prisons, do creative arts programs, various transformative pedagogies, using the work of Augusto Boal and the Theater of the Oppressed, and helping these people in prisons kind of work through their own life experiences and tell their stories as well. That was the part that helped me think through the challenges and problems of violence, to zoom out and see the systemic, the structural nature of the problem and to begin to illustrate what a culture of violence looked like for me, and really then dedicating myself to trying to understand that and working to transform that.

But the second side, the second part of this learning journey was the teaching and the learning part of it, right? So, you know, I felt really obviously naive in that experience which was my first effort to experiment with teaching, but I also began to see the real powerful and transformative potential of it. So, for example, at the memorial service for this young woman who passed away, we were invited by her grandparents to come to a small reception in their home. And at that reception, the grandparents shared with my co-teacher and I that for the first time in their granddaughter’s life, through the experience of our course, she could imagine herself going to college. It was something that never seemed possible for her as a life journey and life path. So to me, it’s like, wow, you know, what made that experience so powerful from an educational perspective? How can education be transformative? And why, why is it that our education doesn’t look like this and how do we bring this kind of learning into these different spaces? If inquiry number one for me was trying to understand, interpret, and figure out ways to transform systems and cultures of violence, then inquiry number two, which has guided my journey along the way, has been trying to understand what makes learning transformative. And then, how do we advocate for the inclusion of that type of learning in various spaces? So that’s roughly what inspired me to work in the field. 

How can education be transformative? And why, why is it that our education doesn’t look like this and how do we bring this kind of learning into these different spaces?

Yeah, yeah. I heard so much in there we can extrapolate on. I heard you use the phrase meaning making, and how that was essential to your teaching and that difficult, but transformative experience that you had then. What does meaning making look like for you in education?

Great question. Being a student of Betty Reardon my mind always goes to the pedagogical side of things, to really bring attention to the process, and the ways the how of teaching is probably even more important than the what of teaching. And quite honestly, it’s in the process, through the pedagogy that we use, that we’re doing so many different things. We’re obviously modeling human relationships, political relationships. We are modeling and moderating power dynamics that exist between teachers and students and what that looks like. And we’re doing a lot of other things, too, in those spaces. We’re creating an intentional space where meaning can be created. It’s the challenge of finding ways that center the experience of the learner. You know, we always talk about learner-centered pedagogy as being kind of critical to transformative work. If we’re not finding ways to center the student’s world, and their experience of that world, it’s not going to be meaningful for them. You know, if it’s about what I  think they need to know, that’s going to immediately change the dynamic between me and the student, and, you know, they’re going to just fall into those patterns that education has prepared them to do, to give me what I want. In that model, I’m not giving them that space for creating their own knowledge, right? So for me, meaning making education is, again, it’s centering the experience, the voice, the concerns of students. It’s centering their questions. It’s also, you know, deeply emancipatory. Meaning-making education is what prepares us to be autonomous human beings in a world that’s shaped by really complex dynamics. So I think these are the things that I try to center in my teaching.

This is something that I have often thought about since I entered education and that I have encountered in the education philosophy of Ikeda, which overlaps with the philosophy of Dewey. The idea that, as you suggested, the way we teach is as, or more important, than the what, is very interesting. In other words, you can’t teach freedom or emancipation in a dogmatic fashion, with teacher as sole authority. Thoughts?

Yeah, absolutely. You know, I use that idea quite often when I’m preparing and working with teachers and peacebuilders and, you know, even with my students in the classroom. A common example that my students really gravitate to, because it’s an experience they’ve all had, is thinking about pedagogy as a form of teaching to the test. You know, in most modern Western educational systems, there’s an element of that, obviously a very strong element of that in the United States. And so we can think about what the pedagogy looks like when you’re doing that. Obviously, it’s invoking a lot of sort of rote learning. And it’s focused on memorization and preparing you to be able to get the right answers on the tests. And that pedagogical approach to learning is obviously not one of deep meaning making. It’s one that is almost trivial. All right, so the outcome of that learning process is to be able to take the tests. But beyond that, how much of that do we retain? How much of that knowledge do we see as integral to who we are, where we want to be in the world that we live in. That gets lost in that process. And in fact, I think that approach to teaching also has a lot of different negative consequences as well. So we think about the ways in which it sets us up to see knowledge as trivial, but also how that knowledge then gets used and wielded as a tool of power over others — for those who are able to retain it versus those who don’t. And so, that is something that we obviously want to find ways to deconstruct. And which is a tremendous challenge, right? 

Some Guiding Principles and Worldviews

To me, another way of putting this is that we need the consonance of ends and means. This was a transformative principle for me, one I encountered when I was in grad school when I was learning about what was called the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program in New York City. It’s a simple idea, but it changed everything for me and how I thought about peacebuilding and what it means to be in the world. What are some of the other core principles would you say that guide peace education? 

I like that framing of means and ends. But I think core principle number one for me is, as educators, developing a reflective praxis. So, you know, just having a deep awareness of these dynamics that we’re talking about here. Years ago I tried to articulate this as a framework that I called the Pedagogy of Relationships. I’ve written about it a few times since, but have never quite gotten around to really giving it the treatment it deserves. But this Pedagogy of Relationships to me was a framework for a reflective praxis and what I intended it to do in my mind, was to help bring reflective awareness to educators of five kinds of key relational dynamics that play out in the teaching and learning process. 

I think core principle number one for me is, as educators, developing a reflective praxis.

First is the relationship between the teacher and the student. So, entering into a space of learning, having a deep awareness of what that relationship looks like; the impacts that it has; the preferences that we’re seeking — you know, creating dialogical relationships and deconstructing hierarchies of power and knowledge and so forth and so on. 

But the second category that we need to think a lot about is how are we effectively nurturing a relationship between the student and themselves? So here we’re laying important foundations for social and emotional wellbeing. You know, nurturing those capacities for reflection, nurturing ethical and moral reasoning, all these kinds of things that are really vital for being able to live with integrity in our world. And part of that relationship between the student and themselves is about nurturing the connection between that inner work and the external political action that we need to take to, again, live with integrity. 

The third dimension in that framework is thinking pedagogically about how we create spaces for peer relationships to emerge in an educational environment. So, how are we creating spaces for constructive and cooperative work with peers? Are we looking at the power dynamics that we’re creating through our pedagogy in the classroom? Are we creating hierarchies among students through our policies and practices? Or are we giving them opportunities for modeling and experiencing the kind of political relationships that we hope that we would nurture? 

The fourth is nurturing the relationship between the student and the external world, thinking about how we are bringing the world into the classroom so it’s relevant and meaningful for them. Is it just an abstraction or is it some form of place-based learning or something like this where we’re finding opportunities to center their world? Is it also bringing diverse voices into the curricula, not just academic voices, but the voices of people that are from their communities, and in the process bringing in diverse forms of knowledge? You’re really even decolonizing curriculum. 

The fifth aspect goes further into the question of how we are preparing people to be in the world. Not just to participate in democracy, but, to be active citizens in a global world, and asking what does that mean? And looking beyond traditional political processes, considering ways of showing up, being active, being engaged, and helping to shape and construct our world as we prefer it to be. With this framework we address a lot of the key principles that we want teachers to be working towards. It’s not everything, but I always thought of this as a starting place. We, as educators, you know, we’re never going to be perfect. We’re the products of the experiences of education that we’ve had. So we need a learning framework for ourselves. And to me, that is what that framework helps bring to our own preparation and practice. 

I’d like to get your thoughts on some of the ideas of two giants in peace education and peace studies we have worked with, Elise Boulding and Betty Reardon, who you mentioned earlier. One of the things that Elise always brought up with us is that, as peace educators, we need to help people see that violence is no more inherent to humanity than cooperation and peace are. For some reason it’s considered more realistic to think that violence is our true nature, but I’m not so sure about the truth of that. Can you speak to that subject? 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that perception is shared by many people, even peace activists and others, not all obviously. I think that’s the product of a number of different things. Clearly, part of it’s our curriculum, how we narrate and talk about histories by using markers of violence. And part of it is a product of misperceptions that are nurtured by political “realism,” which still remains the backbone of international relations studies. You know, realism promotes this common misperception that human beings are inherently violent and inherently bad. It promotes the idea that the system is chaotic, therefore we allow and justify ourselves to use control and power and coercion to maintain order. All those kinds of things. It’s a really interesting challenge for the students that I have currently in peace studies, many of them who are double majoring in international relations. It’s like, they get in my classroom and say, wait a minute here, this is a radically different view than what we’ve been talking about over there. An intriguing point is that we know pretty well from archaeological records that there’s no evidence of mass war-making activity amongst human beings prior to about 13,000 years ago. Since then there has been some sort of social and cultural adaptation toward war. 

What Elise tried to do, if I understand properly, is set out to document the range of peace cultures that actually have happened and are happening. As she loved to say, quoting her husband, Kenneth, “What exists is possible.” And it seems like showing this is a huge thing that a peace education classroom can do. 

Yeah, Boulding’s first law, right? That’s one of the best lines ever. So, yes, absolutely a very important thing. My students always pick up on this, that one of the first steps in nurturing a culture of peace is telling those stories. Or, in Elise’s terms, sharing the hidden side of history — helping us develop an awareness that systems of cooperation have been just as vital to our ability to thrive and survive as have been systems of and cultures of competition. And I think, you know, we don’t want to wash away that there is violence. We want to bring attention to it. We want to figure out ways to transform it. The human potential for both violence and peace, it exists, but we have a kind of narrative sickness when it comes to that. And I think even in the context of how we look at and interpret the world that we live in today, we have a problem with the ways in which journalism portrays the stories of conflicts, oversimplifying things into, for example, good guys versus bad guys, depending on a certain contextual narrative, not looking at the deeper historical context in which certain conflicts have arisen and so forth and so on. I find it really kind of fascinating. My students have been studying something that’s really relevant to them today: the Palestinian rights movements that are popping up on campuses across the country. And they’re frustrated and sickened by the fact that the journalists are not interviewing the students about what it is they’re really asking for; and by and large, most of these students are showing up trying to create a space for the dignity of all people. The media, however, will focus on certain bad actors — and from what’s been shared with me by both students and activists present in these spaces is that the violent rhetoric and antisemitism being witnessed has come from infiltrators and non-students. So what they are presenting is an aberration, not the norm. What most students are really seeking to achieve is being overlooked and they’re just being branded as creating unsafe spaces on campus. So we need things like peace journalism, and nonviolent journalism, to challenge those narratives. 

We have a really difficult time seeing the possibility of cooperative relationships existing as the foundation for culture.

But in the context of peace education, I think that the quote that I always gravitate towards from Elise is “we can’t work for a world we can’t imagine.” And so part of the challenge, a big part of the challenge is, you know, how we construct that world in our own minds. And there are tremendous worldview obstacles that get in our way and that make it really difficult for us to see a more preferred future and more preferred reality rather than a probable one, right? So, you know, we take it as sort of fact that that the violence is inevitable. And we have a really difficult time seeing the possibility of cooperative relationships existing as the foundation for culture. So what Elise always encouraged us to do is to release the imagination as part of that process. It’s vital work, but it’s really hard work because our education systems have constrained the imagination of students — the imaginative, the intuitive, that kind of thinking. It’s going back to what we were talking about at the beginning here, these forms of learning have been pushed out of formal educational spaces — where they’re not considered “valid” forms of learning since they are not purely cognitive. 

That leads me to the other giant of peace education that I want to talk about, someone we’ve also worked with here, namely Betty Reardon. A few years ago we decided to work together and she really wanted to engage with Mr. Ikeda’s efforts around nuclear disarmament. And the thing she seized on in Mr. Ikeda’s thinking, in his philosophy, was an emphasis on what she described as alternative thinking. And this is what I hear you saying: that we’ve put ourselves in a box and that we don’t know that we can imagine different worlds and that we can actually achieve them. So I was wondering if you could talk a little more about alternative thinking and Betty Reardon and the challenges of our day.

Betty was a really dear, very close friend. You know, in her last few years she was very critical of her own legacy and history of work, and its failures to address the existential crises of our day, nuclear disarmament being at the top of the list, something she had been working on going back to the early 1980s, and trying to bring that focus of disarmament education to peace education. And she saw the intersections of that with climate change. And of course you can always bring in the broader lens of militarism as sort of a third leg of a conjoined existential crises, right? So, yeah, there’s this problem, the challenge of imagination and alternative thinking. Many people have a hard time imagining that other worlds are even possible. And I think it’s rooted in and shaped by our thinking related to change. There’s a certain linearity that most of us hold about how change happens in the world. And part of that sense of linearity is shaped by a certain perception of time and how we perceive the relationships that exist between the past, the present, and the future. So we hold in our minds that the world that came before us has brought us to the present moment. So there’s a certain linearity to that. And the world that we’re living in now shapes our perceptions about the future that we’re moving into. And so forth and so on, and that makes sense based upon the sort of narratives that we’ve constructed in our world. But time is much more dynamic and much messier than that. 

So, what I at least would talk about is the ways in which we think about the future actually can reshape the ways in which we perceive the present. And if we’re creative and dynamic, the ways in which we think about the present can reshape the ways in which we interpret the past. So there’s a dynamic relationship that exists. This awareness needs to be part of the process of the pedagogies that we work through to help release the imagination. Because if we’re on that trajectory of linearity, that sort of linear thinking about time, then it’s going to orient us into these deeply probabilistic ways of seeing the future. So it’s kind of like, well, we’ve had a world of violence that’s created the world that we’re seeing that we’re living in now that has all these multiple crises, and that pathway is just going to continue because that’s how things go. So it’s figuring out how to disrupt that thinking and shift it from the probable to the preferred to give space to nurturing positive visions of what the future should hold. And even if those initial visions are wild and crazy and quote, unquote, unrealistic, we need to entertain them. Then we can go back and refine them and think about what might be more realistic in terms of the institutions and the types of relationships that need to exist to get us to that place. That obviously is really difficult work and it really starts with our ability to disrupt those patterns of thought. 

Yes, there’s a belief that we’re prisoners of the past. This was a key point for Mr. Ikeda and is central to Nichiren Buddhism, which teaches that every moment provides the opportunity for a fresh start. You’re not a prisoner of the past. Karma is not something that has imprisoned you, but rather karma is what we are creating in this moment. It’s a highly creative, highly liberatory notion, I think. I would like to also talk about another problematic notion. Having done this work for 30 years, it seems to me that the perspective that most cripples us is that of “us versus them,” an inability or refusal to see that we are all in this together.

Yeah. I think that’s really important. I think it’s interesting. So maybe I can talk about this in the broader context of where I see the field of peace education at these days. And I think there have been tremendous developments, over the past 25 years in particular. We see the emergence of a really big cadre of scholars who are doing this work or writing and researching and developing ideas. But there’s a couple of trends that I think have been really important. I look at them with some caution and some concern. So I think there are two significant developments we’ve seen in the last 10 years, and in particular within peace education. First, is bringing emphasis to what a lot of people describe as critical peace education, which has its roots in critical theory and critical pedagogy. It’s about developing the capacities for critical thinking, and doing that kind of learning that helps us see systems of power that exist within institutions and helps unveil forms of structural violence and cultural violence, and so forth and so on. Then I think the other development has been around decolonial peace education, which obviously has a similar intention, but is rooted in deciphering legacies of colonialism and how they shape the world that we live in. These practices and these frameworks tend to orient us towards resistance, and I think resistance is really vital to those injustices to those power imbalances that exist in our world. However, what concerns me is that we’re often not approaching critical and decolonial education with a framework of transformative resistance. And so what happens is it can create, not always, but in some contexts, in many contexts, it can create these situations that lead to the dehumanization of the other — creating that us-versus-them that you’re talking about as opposed to, you know, centering our energy on finding ways to oppose and constructively transform the systems and structures. Otherwise, they may just sustain those old dynamics. As an old friend of mine always would say, you know, where attention goes, energy flows. 

So, as this field has gravitated so much attention to critical education and decolonial education one of the things that I see happen, in terms of decolonial studies, is there then is this tendency to categorically reject all Western and modern thought, seeing these forms of teaching and learning and knowing as being inherently bad. Again, and even on the other side of the coin of that, there’s a romanticization of indigenous practices and cultures. So this is a concern for me. And how do we approach that kind of learning in a way that doesn’t create that us-versus-them framing again. I don’t think everyone does this intentionally, but I do see a lot of those kinds of patterns emerge as a result. Betty always called for what I’ve been trying to bring attention back to, which is the importance of nurturing comprehensive peace education. These forms of critical and decolonial and analytic frameworks are foundational to it, but we need to bring those forms of learning and knowing into relationship with social and psychological and educational practices as well. Bringing in and centering the human being, as we discussed earlier, is part of that. And I think where we need to do more work is not just bringing those two frameworks together, but understanding how they’re complementary and inseparable, and how they’re a part of the whole. We have a lot of work still to do. 

Betty [Reardon] always called for what I’ve been trying to bring attention back to, which is the importance of nurturing comprehensive peace education… forms of critical and decolonial and analytic frameworks are foundational to it, but we need to bring those forms of learning and knowing into relationship with social and psychological and educational practices as well. Bringing in and centering the human being…is part of that. And I think where we need to do more work… understanding how [these frameworks are]… complementary and inseparable, and how they’re a part of the whole.

We also need to look more effectively at the ways in which educational responses need to be trauma informed. Trauma is one of those things that we all experience in life. And there are many different forms of it. And trauma is not just in the mind. It’s even physiological. And trauma can be really difficult to overcome in terms of how it can be an impediment to our own thinking. We don’t often enough find ways to disrupt that victim-oppressor cycle that emerges from traumatic context and conditions. There’s the worldview obstacles I spoke of before, which are things that are nurtured through the formal curriculum, and informal learning through families, through religion and other spaces. 

Another concept that I’ll throw into the mix here is deeply related to those two. And I don’t think I’ve seen any really good research on this. We need to better understand how existential anxiety works. It’s a form of trauma in a way. But what I find really challenging in the context of worldview transformation and change is to talk about something like the climate crisis or nuclear disarmament. It feels so overwhelming to people and it produces such a sense of anxiety; and that anxiety is a fear response, and fear rigidifies the ways in which we see and perceive the world. And what it often does is leads to apathy and complacency, and thinking there’s nothing that can be done. So we need to think about how do we nurture learning that helps us overcome that anxiety. And then spirituality would be the fourth prong. I think that needs to be looked at. I think that’s something that Betty was always hesitant to write and talk about, at least formally. But obviously it was a really important part of her work as well; spirituality in the sense of nurturing those senses of interconnection and interdependence that exist between amongst human beings, past and present and future, and obviously ecological relationships as well. So again, how do we nurture this sort of critical emancipatory and transformative resistance that dignifies all that and abhors us moving towards that us-versus-them kind of thinking that you talked about — what can that look like? I think that’s where we need to be putting a lot more energy as we move to the next phases of our work.

Challenges and Victories

A related factor, and challenge, is that we somehow need to get past the fear and the trauma to a situation of trust. This is a very difficult one, but necessary to the cause of peace. As Mr. Ikeda, for whom dialogue was the essential peacebuilding practice, would say: “To have faith in the promise of dialogue is to have faith in the promise of humanity.” So it seems to me that even though trust and that sort of faith are seen as naive, if we don’t somehow develop those, we always end up back resorting to the systems of domination and control. Have you had experiences with trust building and dialogue in your work?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s a conversation I’ve been having a lot with my students recently. And I frequently teach a course on conflict transformation. And that course centers dialogue as one of the fundamental processes through which we transform conflicts. All conflict is relational, so to enter into a space of constructive dialogue, you need to have foundations of trust. So we explore a lot in our conversations different models and practices of the ways in which we do that, how we nurture that trust. And sometimes what conflict transformation looks like isn’t always about directly addressing the issue at hand. Sometimes it’s just sitting down and making commitments to meet at a regular time in a regular place and to follow certain rules. And as you do that over time through sustained interaction and dialogue, you slowly build trust. You get to a place where you can start to have the more meaningful dialogical conversations about the issues that exist between and amongst groups of people. So I think that’s obviously really viable.

How has your thinking about peace education changed from those early days that you described to me?

That’s a good question. I was having a conversation about this a few months back, about a kind of interesting struggle that I’ve been experiencing. Working so closely both with Betty and so many of the founders of the field, and then also with the new generation, means that I’ve been sort of a bridge between these two generations. And there have been tremendous challenges with that, because each generation is coming to it from its own respective experience and context of the world that they’ve been living in. And in fact, up to three or four years ago I was deeply resistant to these efforts that were calling for more critical peace education, for example. I wanted to reject it because I felt like it was missing something. And it’s taken me time to really reflect on what that was based on, on my own way of seeing things. So I think it’s been a challenge for me trying to facilitate these intergenerational dialogues, which I think are really important, and which have been missing for some time in our field.

But how have my ideas evolved more broadly? I’ve probably grown to see how significant these psychological dimensions we’ve been discussing are — much more so than I ever did before. And a lot of that has just come from the direct exposure and experiences I’ve had working with more and more people over the years — and in understanding how important that is. There’s an example that’s really recent that I’m still working through and trying to interpret and understand and make sense of — which is the ways in which a number of our colleagues, who were dedicated peace educators, are evolving in the context of the experience of trauma and violence in Ukraine. Not long ago I was sort of called out by a colleague in Ukraine because I shared an article from a Ukrainian pacifist leader who was being targeted by the Ukrainian government. They were threatening to jail him and he was under house arrest, and still is under house arrest to this day, because he was encouraging nonviolent resistance to struggle. And these friends of mine that I’ve known for many years, decades or more, who I thought of as being, most of them, feminist, pacifist, peace educators were now saying in the context of the struggle that they were working through that there is no room for conversations about nonviolence. What they were saying, essentially, was “our people are dying, and that is an impediment to the kinds of bravery that we need to nurture right now for our survival and our resistance.” And I thought it was really fascinating that they were really aggressively attacking me for sharing these perspectives. But as I zoomed out and began to think about it, you know, again, this is the impact that trauma could have on how you perceive and interact with the world. Trauma disrupts meaning making, right? Trauma is one of those things that we experience that makes it difficult for us to engage in critical self-reflection. The more and more I’ve been studying, and I’m no expert by any means in trauma, but the more and more I study it and even in terms of my own experiences of trauma, the more keen I am to consider how important this is for us to be able to disrupt. Not every situation is the same as the context of Ukraine. As I was picking up on that pattern, I expected to see a similar sort of thing emerge amongst my Israeli and Palestinian peace education colleagues, but they’ve actually doubled down on peace education, which is quite the opposite response. 

Interesting. 

And I think some of that, and again, this is just hypothetical, my interpretation of this, is that some of that is rooted in the fact that they’ve obviously lived in the conflict situation for 70-plus years. And they have come to see the fallacies of violent resistance as not being effective tools of change and transformation. And so, I think, the only hope that they have for moving forward is to change course and to double down and commit to nonviolence and peaceful alternatives. So I think that’s part of the difference between the two. I mean, there’s probably much more to it than that. But I think that’s part of the story that needs to be looked at. So the evolution has just come from my more direct experience with different peoples and communities working through these different contexts. 

So thinking about this and tying it back to Betty — a couple of years ago we did a reissue of her book Comprehensive Peace Education. We had a little book club and conversations about it and Betty joined us for that. And she was being really open about exploring what she perceived to be our failings in our work in peace education. It’s like, why have we not seen the nuclear disarmament world more developed, more robust? Why are we at where we’re at today? And she thought it was a failure of our teaching, of our education and so forth. We didn’t do a good enough job disseminating it, developing it, writing it, conceptualizing it. I said Betty I don’t think that’s it. I mean, I think we can analytically know, cognitively know of the problems of the system, but if we can’t also find ways to overcome that existential anxiety I was talking about a bit ago, we’re not going to be able to move forward. But I’m so grateful for having had the privilege of being able to hear her reflections, frustrations and challenges, and for having had those conversations and dialogues with her, and for having had her mentorship. She was a brilliant teacher, because she did all these things that we’re talking about in terms of how we pedagogically draw things out of each other and engage in dialogue as part of the process of learning. So I don’t know, I think, yeah, I don’t know. This is a rambling way of saying the importance of these psychological dimensions have really stood out for me.

I’ve found that one key element of this is attention to one’s psychological well-being. It’s important that each of us do take responsibility for trying to create more peace in the world. Now, I think that each of us can and should find a way to do that, but at the same time, I don’t know how to say this, we can’t take too much responsibility. We have to be easy on ourselves. 

Yeah. 

This gets to that psychological dimension, I guess. Guarding our health is important.

Yeah, I agree. I fully agree with that. I think Betty was really hard on herself. But she was such a mission-oriented person, working, you know, just like Ikeda — they passed, what, a month apart last year, right? – working right up to her last dying day, doing things that people half her age wouldn’t be capable of doing. And just every day thinking and worrying about it. I think a challenge for me in supporting her being able to navigate from one world to another was helping her to sort of release her sense of that responsibility and to let her know… I just I sat by her bedside saying, you know, the next generation, we’ve got this; and you know, sharing stories of hope with her of how students are looking at and taking action around these issues so she didn’t have to think that she had to do it all. But the responsibility, I think, is important. I do think it’s important that we name those things that are potential failures because we can learn better from them. It’s a bad idea to ignore those things that we didn’t do right. Though I think some people want to. 

So there are all these anniversary things that have happened in the last few years. Our Institute turned 40 a few years ago. The Peace Education Commission of the International Peace Research Association, of which Betty was a major initiator, also had a major anniversary. And in all these spaces and places they’ve been having these panels and events, a couple of which I’ve been a part of, and the organizers events have wanted to focus on, well, what have we achieved? We have to name that, of course. Yes. But they didn’t want to talk about the failures. And I guess I can understand that in the context of a celebratory event. But when we don’t also talk about the failures, we’re not continuing to learn from our own past, our own experiences. So, yeah, it’s a challenge.

I would have to say from my experience meeting Betty here, that she maintained a joyful aspect. You’re describing the immense amount of responsibility she felt, but I felt that in here and in the community of the young people she worked with, she felt inspirational. So I think she was doing something right. 

Oh, she absolutely was, you know? I mean, I think that probably a lot of those doubtful things came out in private conversations, less so than in public conversations, because pedagogically, she was always manifesting those human-centered principles we spoke of. But then, you know, when she, she was home, her own thoughts often would gravitate towards those failures of what we didn’t do. And I think a lot of it too was, in the last five or six years, part of that was grappling with her mortality and that life transition she was working through and thinking a lot about the legacy of her life and commitments. But, yeah.

Let me pose the simplest question of all to you. What would you like people to know about peace education?

That’s the hardest question in a way! You know, the more you think about a particular field or subject or an idea, the more complicated it becomes. And, so I always find it kind of a challenging thing to express essential ideas. Right? But hopefully I’m getting better at it because, you know, part of my work is academic, so showing complexity and the value of that is important. But also part of my work is advocacy. So it’s about taking that complexity and interpreting it and making it understandable and simple. I think, maybe the message I would give about peace education, particularly for those who aren’t connected to the educational world or peace studies world, is maybe a message nurtured years ago through a campaign we were doing via the Global Campaign for Peace Education. That campaign’s message was rooted in a simple premise: there’s no peace without peace education. And what we were trying to show in particular is that the work of education is essential to the task of nurturing cultures of peace and to dismantling cultures of oppression and violence. And it’s personal work, and it’s interpersonal work, and it’s the work of learning.

…what we were trying to show in particular is that the work of education is essential to the task of nurturing cultures of peace and to dismantling cultures of oppression and violence.

And when we look at change that’s happened in the world, we generally talk about things that are significant political milestones, like the signing of a peace accord, as in the case of Colombia, which is really remarkable. It’s the outcome of a political process, yes, but that’s only part of the story. What’s missing from that is the invisible work of both formal and non-formal peace education that was sustained, even in FARC-controlled (1) territories of Colombia, for 40-plus years. And it was that work that led to the cultural groundswelling that began to value peace as an alternative to that legacy of violence. Without that learning, the peace accords might not have been possible. So, you know, I think we need to understand and see our work in that context, and I think it’s really important. 

And I would say where I feel really hopeful right now is that there seems to be a global consensus that peace education is vital for addressing threats from the local to the global.  Probably the most hopeful thing I’ve been part of over the last few years, and being part of this is actually one of the things that has helped me move through Betty’s transition, is the work that’s come out of UNESCO. In late 2023 a new Recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights, and Sustainable Development (2) was adopted and signed by all UNESCO member countries. They are now in the process of rolling out implementation guides for ministries of education and civil society all around the world. It’s a beautifully constructed framework. It’s holistic. It talks about all the different pieces that we’ve been exploring today. But it’s the fact that it has been accepted by all 194 UNESCO member states that is really remarkable. It sets a precedent that this work is vital and important. We haven’t had an instrument like this at a global level in a long time, so that’s something that’s been inspiring me and giving me hope for the future right now.

…where I feel really hopeful right now is that there seems to be a global consensus that peace education is vital for addressing threats from the local to the global.  

This, and everything you shared today, is truly encouraging, Tony. Thank you for that. Before we close, is there anything you would like to add?

I would have to say that greatest source of inspiration for me is the students and to see them learning. And quite honestly, what I’ve observed for the last 20 years is that students are showing up now with a greater consciousness, greater awareness of peace and of concepts of conflict, transformation, and violence, than they ever had before. And honestly I’ve learned a ton from them, so that’s what keeps me going. 

Notes

1. FARC stands for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who engaged in a  nearly 50-year war against the state government.

2. https://www.unesco.org/en/global-citizenship-peace-education/recommendation

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1 thought on “Tony Jenkins interview: No peace without peace education”

  1. What a stimulating interview! I’m eager to dive deeper into these discussions, especially considering my background as a peace education scholar and advocate deeply invested in the practical aspects of teaching peace education and its impact on conflict transformation.

    The dynamics framework shared here resonates closely with the principles we’ve been exploring in our own work, particularly in the Peace Education for Secondary Schools (PESS) Manual and Handbook in Nigeria -and I love how Tony categorized them. I’m intrigued by how the concepts discussed align with our experiences and how they can be applied in our local contexts.

    The influence of Betty Reardon and Elise on Tony Jenkins’ work underscores the importance of mentorship and the intergenerational exchange of ideas in our field. I’d love to hear more about how their teachings continue to shape his approach to peace education and conflict transformation, and how we can replicate such mentorship models in our communities.

    The discussion on trust-building, dialogue, and addressing psychological dimensions in conflict transformation is particularly relevant to our context in Africa -especially Nigeria at the moment. I’m interested in learning more about practical strategies for nurturing trust and facilitating constructive dialogue, especially in diverse and sometimes polarized communities.

    The recent UNESCO Recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights, and Sustainable Development is a significant milestone for our field. I’m excited to explore how we can leverage this framework to strengthen peace education initiatives in our region and contribute to global efforts towards sustainable peace.

    The emphasis on alternative thinking and platforms like THE DEBATE Arena is crucial for us in Africa. We often need fresh perspectives to tackle our unique challenges. I’ve learned so much from this interview, especially regarding trust-building, dialogue, and addressing psychological dimensions in conflict transformation. These are areas I’ll be exploring further within our community.

    One question I have for Tony Jenkins and other peace education scholars is: How can we ensure that peace education remains culturally relevant and responsive to the diverse contexts in Africa? Additionally, how can we leverage technology and digital platforms to enhance peace education efforts, especially in areas with limited resources?

    These insights will definitely shape the conversations I’ll be having with our community soon. Thank you for sharing this interview!

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