The day before the tenth anniversary of September 11th, a handful of Key School students walked into a conference center in Annapolis. Nominated to attend by their teachers, these students expected to hear government officials, professors, military officers, and other experts speak about what would make the next ten years safer. They planned to debate US foreign policy and the civil rights issues in Middle East. They didn’t plan on author Colman McCarthy affecting them as profoundly as he did.
In minutes, McCarthy shifted the entire focus of the conference. The issue at hand, he said, isn’t about learning to be “safe” in the modern world; the problem is more fundamental. Today’s children learn only about those who break the peace, not those who make it.
McCarthy’s words incited Fish, Kate, Jack, Patrik, and Klay more than anything else they heard that day. Schools needed to take greater part in shaping the next generation of peacemakers, not warmongers, they thought, and Key would serve as the perfect laboratory. They realized that they if they wanted to be peacemakers, they couldn’t be passive.
Like many independent school students, these five saw a problem and quickly got to work with levels of confidence and perseverance atypical for their age. They applied for and won a grant from the Annapolis Peace and Justice Center, designed a four-day activity-based curriculum, and piloted their program–The Teaching Peace Initiative–in 4th-6th grade classes at Key. They’ve involved congressmen and senators, have an affiliate group at Maumee Valley Country Day School over 500 miles away, and are expanding their network into other public and private schools.
They’re looking to change the way American students view tolerance and non-violence, from their own classrooms (tackling the issue of bullying, for example) to the global community. Fish attributes TPI’s success to its fundamental, universally accessible goal: “It’s an issue that’s so unifying at a basic level – peace is good. We’re passionate about what we’ve done, of course, but it’s sparked a realization that this is something that resonates with others too – that peace education isn’t just our pet cause, but an issue that so many are concerned about.”
Three TPI founders are now freshmen in college, but they are still heavily involved in the project’s advocacy and operations. Current Executive Directors Fish and Kate have amassed an impressive list of staff and are looking for more.
If you believe that peace education will change the trajectory of today’s world, please contact Fish and Kate. Start a TPI satellite at your school, download and teach their curriculum in your classroom, or participate in their grassroots awareness campaigns. Have your students write letters to their government representatives encouraging them to support peace. As Fish said, “when it comes down to it, we’ve got to get peace education into as many classrooms as we can, have it touch as many kids’ lives as we can, and make the world as safe and tolerant a place to live in as we can. We can do no less.”