From the whiteboard to the big screen – filming peace education in the classroom

Peace education helps students feel part of the school community.

“At first I was really skeptical, 6 and 7 year olds were talking about peace? I thought no, it wouldn’t work. But within a few weeks of doing Peacemaker Circles regularly, I saw the difference.” – Samantha Duda Spencer, Grade 3 teacher.

From wielding the boom mic to selecting footage in the virtual editing suite, I loved working on this series of shorts. Trying to capture peace education, and “show without telling” what it is, has been a challenge and a joy. Ellis Brooks and I, the peace education team working for Quakers in Britain, sought to find schools that would inspire others.

Like Samantha Duda Spencer, we both have had incredible experiences when young people have experienced peace education, but could we grasp it? Could schools even open their doors in the midst of a pandemic?

Highlight different aspects of peace

Funded by the Network for Social Change, we engaged filmmakers from Speakit and Breaking Waves, dynamic organizations committed to making films that make a difference.

We were ambitious. We wanted to highlight the different aspects of peace: the importance of developing knowledge and understanding on peace as well as the skills we all need to work for peace.

We wanted to grasp the importance of the process, of peace means, the need for critical reflection on ourselves as educators and the active participation of children and young people in the learning community. We wanted to illustrate the centrality of healthy relationships: with ourselves, those immediately around us, our wider communities, with the earth.

We wanted to show all of this, but we didn’t have a script. Little did we know that students would hear about the story of the Stansted 15 – activists who blocked a Home Office deportation flight – and decide to create dance pieces exploring the experience of deportations. We couldn’t predict when the peer mediators would stop filming as they dealt with an actual conflict, or the depth of sharing that would take place in a discussion about class, racism, and sexuality.

With the help of our Peacemakers partners (the West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project) and the Welsh Center for International Affairs (WCIA), we integrated six schools. We wanted classes and teaching staff in the countryside and in the city, at the elementary and secondary level, that were diverse and inclusive. In some schools, students have helped film, direct and create music.

Filming peacemaking in schools

Secondary school students from Leeds, Merthyr Tydfil and central London grappled with questions of identity and belonging. They discussed controversial issues of conflict and human rights, created music inspired by peacemakers in Palestine and Israel, and explored their local heritage of peace. We participated in coaching circles and experienced students took the lead in restorative practice.

A primary school in central Birmingham let us film a Peacemaker mediation training. The young mediators learned about the concept of the “conflict escalator” and skillfully practiced how to “eliminate accusatory language” from stories.

In rural Staffordshire, we’ve helped children create their own animations, exploring what they think a peaceful school and a peaceful classroom look like. We sat at regular kids’ circle times and saw one kid light up on the “magic carpet” as he heard affirmations from his classmates.

Priority to peace in the classroom

I asked director Richard Simcox why he prioritized peace education and how he incorporated it into the curriculum. “Peace education is long-lived and impactful…so we decided to keep it as part of the school’s core values…If all children had the opportunity to learn peace skills peacebuilding and participating in a peace-led, peace-supported agenda, then we would have a more peaceful society. We wouldn’t necessarily have less conflict, but we would have better ways to deal with that conflict.

Principal Sarah Beagley was quick to address the difficult issues facing the students. “They live in communities where they face violence, they face racism.” Sarah was also clear that while she can’t necessarily change what happens outside the school gates, “we’ve made a very clear decision to say that in this school, in this place, in this community, something will be different”.

The role of education

For me, it was difficult to do justice to the depth and sensitivity of the exploration of identity, and the discussion of the situation facing the Uyghur population in China. But I was blown away by the teachers’ commitment to the role education plays in addressing injustice and discrimination. This was not seen as compromising academic success, but as complementary.

I have seen the impact of students feeling valued and truly part of the school community, and the difference organizations like Peacemakers and WCIA can make by supporting a school on its journey. Teachers spoke of the confidence it gave them to try new ways of working and the difference it made in building a more inclusive, just and peaceful school.

As Jackie Zammit, director of the peace education program at Peacemakers, said: “If you are motivated by peace, if you believe in peace, if you are not ashamed to talk about peace… is where transformation can occur”.

The six-film series is underway weekly on the Quakers in Britain YouTube channel. Movies are piling up until a new report comes out Peace at the Heart: a relational approach to education in UK schools in the spring of 2022. To follow @PeaceEduQuaker on Twitter for regular updates.

Learn more about peace education

About Michael C. Lovelace

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