Advocate: Put peace on par with other academic subjects

N.S. schools should offer peer mediation course, says ex-teacher
By CLARE MELLOR Staff Reporter
NS Chronicle Herald (link to article on the Herald website)

Just like reading, writing and arithmetic, Hetty van Gurp wants peace education to become part of the curriculum in Nova Scotia schools.

The issue is personal for the former teacher who founded the charitable organization Peaceful Schools International in 2001. Her 14-year-old son, Ben, died in 1991 as a result of a bullying incident at the Halifax school he was attending.

“He reported to us that he was being bullied by a classmate, so his father and I went to the school and met with the school administration, who assured us they would deal with the problem,” van Gurp recalled Thursday after speaking to delegates at a peace conference being held at Mount Saint Vincent University.

Not long afterwards, the same boy knocked Ben down during a break at a school basketball game.

“Ben was just watching the game. . . . He started bleeding internally and that night he died in hospital,” said van Gurp, who now lives in Granville Ferry, Annapolis County.

When she returned to work after her son’s death, van Gurp, then an elementary school teacher in Bedford, told her principal that she was going to teach peace education “with or without anyone’s blessing.

“Fortunately, (the principal) thought it was a good idea and encouraged me and that is when it all started.”

Soon van Gurp was inundated with requests from other teachers who wanted her to share her ideas and lessons on conflict resolution. She realized that many other teachers in Nova Scotia and elsewhere were struggling to teach peace education on their own.

“It is hard. Peer mediation training, yes, you can do it, but (you have to) do it on the weekend and you have to find the funds yourself. It shouldn’t be that way if it is important.”

Van Gurp, author of a book on peaceful schools, said she and other peace educators plan on lobbying the province to provide peace education. She wants the province to set up a peace education division within the Department of Education and develop a cultivating peace course that would be taught in all Nova Scotia schools.

She is planning on meeting with Education Minister Marilyn More about the issue.

“The problem is people say . . . it is already embedded in the curriculum that we have and it may be true, but it can be so easily overlooked,” she said. “I think it needs to be front and centre, a course called peace education or lessons in living.”

Van Gurp, who recently became a grandmother, set up Peaceful Schools International to provide support and resources to teachers and schools who are trying to emphasize peace. Over 300 schools around the globe are members of the association. Her work has taken her to countries like Pakistan and Serbia.

She has handed the association’s leadership to others, but is still an active board member. “It is deeply personal. I will always be involved.”

While some may say it is idealistic, van Gurp believes peace education in schools is one of the keys to preventing future global conflict.

“In schools where children have experienced some form of peace education and conflict resolution education, when they graduate they are far more aware of global issues and fairness and injustice,” she said.

“The hope is . . . that when they take on positions of power or if they are in decision-making positions, they’ll make wiser decisions than our generation and previous generations have made.”

More than 100 people are attending the peace conference called Being the Change: Building a Culture of Peace. The conference started on Wednesday and wraps up on Saturday.

Leave a Reply