By Laurie Marshall
As yet another young man inflicts the pain he is suffering on others, the urgency of teaching peace literacy in our schools, communities and institutions becomes more pressing.
Knowing how to experience and express feelings in a constructive way is a lifelong process. Now, neurobiology and scientific research are giving us tools that we can strive to master as adults and pass along to our children.
The good news is that the communication skills of compassion, collaboration, trust-building, self-expression and empathy can be taught. The bad news is that it isn’t happening systematically in our schools and other institutions.
Four important resources for life-saving training are the Peace Literacy Institute, Brene Brown’s work, the bully prevention training of Community Matters, and Peace Building Through Art.
Tools for building the muscle needed for a world without mass shootings and war can be found at The Peace Literacy Institute, in a free K-16 curriculum. The institute was founded by Paul K. Chappell, a former Army captain at Fort Bliss and in Iraq.
The West Point graduate is applying what he learned in the military to waging peace. He had the profile of a mass shooter, coming from an abusive childhood. He thought it was normal to fantasize about killing his classmates in high school. His English teacher helped him discover the power of writing to express his pain instead of taking it out on innocent bystanders.
He’s written seven books which are part of the curriculum and is adapting the curriculum to a virtual reality format.
All of Brene Brown’s books and talks break down and scaffold the skills involved in identifying and expressing emotions. If these feelings are unexpressed, they become malignant and turn into violence.
Her most recent work, available in book form and an HBO video series, is “Atlas of the Heart,” which defines 87 emotions. Her books are must reads for every parent, spouse, educator, and business person.
The bullying prevention work of Community Matters, co-founded by El Paso’s visionary educator John Linney, outlines five types of mistreatment and ways that students can counteract them.
The five damaging, bullying behaviors include exclusion, put-downs, intimidation, unwanted physical contact and acts against the community.
Students gain practice in role-playing, putting up someone who was put down, active listening, distracting an aggressor’s negative behavior from a target, supporting someone who is in pain, and proposing consequences and alternatives to talk a friend out of seeking revenge.
Finally, the arts are an under-utilized tool to prevent violence. The pain, insecurity and stress that drives aggression – from an 18-year-old mass shooter to a 69-year-old head of the Russian state – can be expressed, seen and shared in the creative arts.
Peace literacy skills can be taught in the process of creating murals, music, drama and dance. Having that common experience makes connections to the heart between diverse people and allows difficult experiences to be transformed and healed.
As we face trauma upon compounded trauma with the rise of climate chaos and the anguish of violence, all of us deserve the tools of peace literacy, just as we all deserve reading literacy. Please bring these scientifically proven tools to your family and community.
Laurie Marshall is a project-based learning and arts integration specialist who recently moved to El Paso to be close to her grandchildren. She is a certified K-12 art and social studies teacher and the founder of www.UnityThroughCreativity.org, a Peace Building Through Art non-profit.