December 2005 - #3. CIVIC EDUCATION: Civic Education and Peace.


Vermont Bar Journal


December 2005 - #3.

CIVIC EDUCATION: Civic Education and Peace

The Vermont Bar Journal #163, December, 2005, Volume 31, No. 3


Civic Education and Peace

by Michael Palmer

"It cannot be deny'd but that the naturall state of men, before they entr'd into Society, was a meer war, and that not simply, but a war of all men against all men; for what is war, but that same time in which the will of contesting by force, is fully declar'd either by words, or deeds? The time remaining, is termed peace." Thomas Hobbes, De Cive (1651)

Peace is not merely the absence of war. We have learned a few things in the last 350 years since Hobbes wrote his famous treatise. It is more than the cessation of hostilities or the suppression of violence. True peace - shalom - is the presence of mutual respect and cooperation. It is the basis of a productive life lived in harmony and dignity. Peace is a basic social good.

A deep understanding of peace together with skills in building, maintaining, and restoring it is a necessary part of mature citizenship in a liberal democracy. Knowing how to make, build, and keep peace is a primary citizenship skill.

Without civilizing institutions, we devolve into a kind of warfare in which the physically strong and brutally ruthless command and exploit those less able to hold their own in a fight. This Hobbesian truth was epitomized by William Golding in Lord of the Flies, a novel about the raw aggression unleashed when a group of English school boys is marooned on an island without any adults. But there needs no romancier come tell us how vicious we can be to each other. We see abundant evidence in our prisons, in domestic violence courts, in workplaces, and, yes, even in our schools.

A cheap peace can be purchased with force, violence, and intimidation. But this is a peace without justice, which is the same as deferred war. In our schools, young children and teenagers too often find themselves on a pendulum between adult-imposed quiescence and a kind of pre-civilized "war of all against all" on the playgrounds, in the locker rooms, in the hallways, and the bathrooms - wherever an adult is not looking. Meanness, bullying, taunting, and other forms of maneuvering for power and status characterize too much of the school experience for too many young people.

Ironically and contrary to conventional wisdom, one of the principal lessons learned in many schools is not how to stand up for and take care of ourselves. To be sure, some of us (maybe around 20 percent) acquire such competitive skills. But most of us give in to our native instincts to avoid confrontation wherever possible. At best, we learn to call on some legitimate authority - the police, the teacher, the principal - to bail us out of a problem or to retaliate on our behalf. And much of the time, we learn just to acquiesce, to put up with, to avoid, or to absorb whatever injustice comes our way.

It does not have to be this way. It is not healthy for our democracy when children are left to their own devices. It is not good for public discourse when the only model we learn for responding to inappropriate behavior...

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