Peace Education: Psychological Factors that Endorse War

Rick Gay, Educational Studies, Davidson College

Admittedly, most Americans would prefer to live in an era of peace, instead of an era of war. Why then, when confronted with the possibility of war, do so many Americans thoroughly embrace and support it? For example, one recent opinion poll reveals that 28 percent of Americans believe President Obama made a mistake when he withdrew forces from Iraq.

During this seminar on peace education, we will confront the love/hate relationship most Americans have with war by examining psychological factors that surface in public school classrooms and serve to endorse war. In Peace Education: How We Come to Love and Hate War (2012), educational philosopher Nel Noddings identifies six factors that promote war: patriotism, hatred, masculinity and the warrior, the female reaction to war, religious extremism, and the search for existential meaning. In our readings and discussions, we will examine all six factors in detail and posit ways to incorporate the exploration/critiquing of these issues in our classrooms.

Literature and history courses invite the study of selections from the Iliad, the World War I poetry of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, and the recent poetry of Brian Turner in Here, Bullet. Mathematics instructors might pose problems such as “How many schools could be built for the price of one heavy bomber?” Or, they might be interested in the writings of famous mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Music classes might study martial music, the role of the bugle in military operations or counterculture protest music. Physical education teachers could explore the connections between sports and warfare. Photography from the Spanish Civil War and World War I could be introduced in art courses, along with poster art from the World War II era. And, of course, science courses invite many ethical questions relating to the development of weaponry.

Nel Noddings hopes, as I do, that opening such discussions “will encourage more people to oppose war,” or at least think more critically about it.

Explore curriculum units developed by Fellows in this seminar here.