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Can You Teach People Peace? Is Peace Education Indispensable or Merely an Illusion?

There is no shortage of official recognition for the importance of peace education.

DW-Montage aus: A former Taliban militant hold his heavy machine gun during a ceremony to hand over it to the Afghan government in the city of Herat province west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. Around 40 Taliban militants from Herat province handed their weapons to the Afghan government as part of a peace-reconciliation program. (AP Photo/Fraidoon Pooyaa)+++President Barack Obama speaks about education at the 19th Annual Legislative Conference of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Many organizations and institutions actively promote and work on peace education, including UNESCO, the Council of Europe, governments and academic institutions. The basic assumption behind this is that for true and sustainable peace to prevail, people on all levels of society need to have an understanding of peace and the desire and abilities to maintain it. Similar to peace itself, few would argue against the desirability of peace education. But is it really possible to teach people peace? Or is it merely a beautiful illusion?

The commonplace skeptical smirk about peace work seems to be inevitable when thinking of teaching people whose everyday reality is violence and armed conflict about non-violence, conflict transformation and reconciliation. In times of crisis and conflict, a choice between the practical consideration of surviving through the use of a gun or the moral decision to stand against the use of violence seems to be idealistic. But at the same time, if people continue to choose violence, there will never be sustainable peace.

This panel will try to tackle these considerations in two ways: Firstly, by looking at the overall issues, including whether peace education is a requirement for there to be true peace or whether it is a concept prevalent in the West that does not apply to actual conflict situations. Secondly, the workshop will look at peace education during different stages of conflict - in the lead up to, during and after war. Is it possible to teach people peace when a society is gearing up for conflict? Is it possible to teach people peace when they are trying to survive a war? And is it possible to teach people peace when they are traumatized, mourning the loss of their loved ones and trying to rebuild their destroyed homes?