Peace education as vital as the 3Rs

Peace education as vital as the 3Rs, says founder of Peaceful Schools

Rick Conrad, Education Reporter
Chronicle Herald
November 16, 2006

Teaching kids how to respect and protect each other must be given as high a priority as teaching them how to add and subtract, the founder of Peaceful Schools International told the Halifax regional school board Wednesday evening.

"Personally I believe that we need a new vision for our schools and that is a vision that includes educating the heart along with the mind," Hetty van Gurp told board members.

"We all know what we want. I’m sure that every person in this room would agree that he or she longs for an end to violence both in schools and society. And the good news is that with a collective vision, diligence and systematic tracking and monitoring it is possible to create a school where people want to be."

Ms. van Gurp said that some schools, like the American one her sons attended in their younger years, put peace education on par with math and language arts.

"And the peace education department is as well staffed as all the other academic departments and the result is tangible and long-lasting," she said.

Ms. van Gurp’s son Ben was killed by a bully in a Halifax school in 1991. Peaceful Schools International now counts about 230 member schools worldwide, 25 of them in the Halifax board.

Since her son’s death, however, she said the bullying problem still rages.

"It really begs the question, are we doing enough to ensure the safety of our children? How do we go about transforming the culture of our schools so that our children can learn free from fear?"

It won’t take individual programs, it will take a wholesale attitude change from those in charge of the education system, she said.

She pointed to Annapolis East Elementary in Middleton, which has a zero tolerance policy toward any kind of violence or intimidation. That school’s curriculum also includes lessons in respect, empathy and conflict resolution. It also tracks every incident.

With the new policy, education and the record-keeping, the school reduced its incidents of aggression from about 125 a week to five or 10 a week, she said.

"Thinking that we can reduce violence by individual programs is like filling cavities as they occur as opposed to preventing cavities by adding fluoride to the drinking water. . . . Find a fluoride solution to the insidious problem of school violence."

She said the board’s two-member safe schools department should be beefed up to deal more effectively with bullying in the region’s 137 schools.

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