What are contexts and issues that you work on? How are you using peace education to address these issues? What keeps you going?
I have worked in a variety of contexts but most recently I have been in western China. There are social, religious, and ethnic conflicts here that simmer under the surface. Minorities are increasingly disparaged and there are disparities in educational attainment, income, and social advancement opportunities. There is no safe outlet to express their concerns and fears under the current Chinese regime. Therefore, there is a legitimate concern that their marginalization will turn into cultural extermination. The Chinese education system doesn’t provide opportunities for deep critical thinking or outside perspectives so I am able to introduce these concepts. By providing a safe space where people can discuss their fears, the definition of security, and ideas about peace, students can analyze if the status quo is equitable and how to be more inclusive. If we can prevent an escalation of the current situation to what is happening in Xinjiang, that would be a fabulous outcome. I am spurred on by hope. I have to believe that our work- the work of peace educators around the world- makes a difference. If I only looked to grand outcomes, I would be disheartened. By celebrating and relishing the small victories, I keep my momentum.
What has been your most meaningful or noteworthy moment in your peace education career?
As part of research I was conducting in the Philippines, I had the occasion to encounter a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front- a group that at the time was designated a terrorist organization. I thought that surely a man who spent his days with weapons had no ideas about peace. However, after talking with him, I realized he had more ideas about peace than most people. For him, peace is not merely an absence of violence, as many people believe- it is religious freedom, living according to your ideals, and cultural preservation. This encounter was not the most impactful in terms of number of people. I only engaged with one man. But the lessons I learned have stuck with me long after we parted ways and continue to impact my work and the way that I think. Of course, now the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro is considered an example of a successful, lasting peace agreement.
How and why did you start working in peace education?
I am a peace linguist and professor so working in peace education was a natural extension of what I had been doing. I liked that it took what I was doing in research and personal practice and extended it to the professional realm- I can engage other people with ideas now of not only using language for peaceful, constructive, equitable, nonviolent means but also to use my position to build values and attitudes in students to respect and live in harmony with others. Not every society has the same western concept of human rights and freedom but all societies have a concept of dignity and peace education builds on that.