Teaching peace all the world around

Much of the history our children learn in school centers around war. This is perhaps merely a reflection of our society’s values, but it may also be a means of perpetuating those values.

Our country was born out of war — a bloody revolution against England. So students of American history learn the dates and battles, the military leaders, the causes and results of that war. In the same way, they study the Civil War that nearly tore our nation asunder; its consequences are felt today.

Students of world history learn about the two great world wars in the last century, and the smaller wars before, between, and after. Students of ancient history may read Homer’s Iliad, about the Trojan War, or Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, recording decades of war between the Greek city states of Athens and Sparta, or Virgil’s Aeneid, the national epic of Rome, that starts with the fall of Troy.
Our students probably know a good deal about Napoleon Bonaparte or Robert E. Lee, or General George Patton. While we know much about men of war how many of us know as much about men of peace, like Mahatma Gandhi or Masahisa Goi"

As a society, we celebrate monuments to war. Even a small newspaper like ours will regularly run photographs of a wreath being laid on a monument — perhaps on Memorial Day, perhaps on Veterans Day — in honor of those who died fighting in a war. Often such monuments are at the center of our towns or the focal point of our village squares.
So we were particularly struck this week by a school ceremony centering around a new monument — celebrating peace.

For over a year now, the Guilderland School District has actively promoted a program to prevent bullying. The lessons are valuable — that others should be respected; that bystanders, other children, can make a difference when one child is bullying another.

But Tuesday’s ceremony at Pine Bush Elementary School went beyond the theme of treating the others you know with respect. Its horizons were as wide as the world.

Significantly, the ceremony did not downplay or diminish love of country. Since Tuesday was Flag Day, most of the children were dressed in red, white, and blue.
"Flag Day is one of our favorite celebrations at Pine Bush," said Principal Martha Beck, clothed in a brilliant red dress herself. "We’re gathering here as a community today...," she went on, "to dedicate the Pine Bush Elementary Peace Pole...."
The pole was planted in a revamped garden, a gift donated by the Parent-Teacher Association. On its sides, in 12 different languages, this message is written: "May Peace Prevail on Earth."
"We have chosen the languages of Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swahili to represent all the continents of the world, as well as the diverse cultures that we are lucky to have here at Pine Bush Elementary School," said the program for dedication ceremony. The programs were distributed by children electrified by the excitement of the gathering, over a hundred strong.
The program went on, "We hope that the presence of the simple phrase ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’ will leave a lasting impression on our children during their time here at Pine Bush Elementary and as they grow and go out into the world."
"What a great lesson for our children...that peace is such a global idea we can all agree on," Principal Beck told the crowd.

Then, each of the children surrounding the pole said the words in the dozen different languages.

Ten-year-old Skylar Mead spoke the words in German; nine-year-old Anna Jacquinot said them in Hindi. Eight-year-olds Luxi Peng and Alicia Chen recited them together, in perfect unison, in Chinese.

All at once, it seemed like Guilderland, New York had something in common with Lahore, Pakistan. There, on Jan. 15 of this year, a peace pole was planted in the midst of tensions surrounding the murder of a Shiite religious leader in a Sunni-dominated nation. It seemed there was a link, too, with Chiang Mai, Thailand, where a peace pole was planted on Feb. 14, the Day of Friendship.

The World Peace Prayer Movement that was started in 1955 by Japanese poet and philosopher Masahisa Goi grew to a non-sectarian organization, headquartered in New York, recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization.

Poles have been planted at the pyramids of El Giza, at Gorky Park in Russia, in Sarajevo, at the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, and near the Allenby Bridge on the border of Israel and Jordan. They have been dedicated by leaders from diverse religions — by Pope John Paul II, by Mother Teresa, by the Dalai Lama.

More than 100,000 peace poles stand around the world.Did the children at Pine Bush know all this as they celebrated on Tuesday evening" Will one small garden in Guilderland with a peace monument make any difference at all"

Perhaps not, but it could be a beginning for a new generation to look at the world differently, to try to forge cross-cultural understanding that would prevent the bloodshed that has shaped our world so far.

Mostly, the children on Tuesday evening ringing the peace pole were excited. Some of them jumped up and down as, closing the ceremony, they sang with great gusto:
You and me, every city, every town,
One by one, in our work and in our play,
We are teaching peace by what we do and what we say.
"It’s up to us to show we care,
Reaching out to everybody, everywhere,
Heart to heart, and friend to friend,Circling all around the world and back again."

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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