Congress 2021 blog edition
By Megan Perram, PhD Candidate in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta
In a brief but mighty keynote, Steven Staples, chairperson of Peace Quest, accomplished policy and research strategist, published author, and award-winning peace and social justice advocate discussed peace education and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. This open event was hosted by the Canadian Peace Research Association and moderated by Frederic Pearson, Executive Director at Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Wayne State University. The session was sponsored by Peace Quest, a leadership and education initiative that has launched an ambitious plan to engage students, teachers, and Canadians to promote peace.
Staples outlined for the audience the details of a robust study he conducted on peace and social justice education and engagement strategies in the COVID-19 context. The policy analyst described three main goals of this study. The first goal was to “understand the interrelationships between non-profits, teachers and school boards in delivering peace and social justice education.” The second was “to improve non-profits’ peace and social justice education programs.” Finally, his last goal “was to assist us in providing peace and social justice education for students.” For Staples, his study is really about implementation and finding strategies to incorporate peace education into pedagogical tools more effectively.
Staples stressed the importance of engaging the community. His team held a meeting with leaders from the NGO sector, teachers, and experts that work in the school board. A number of the members he consulted in this meeting had expertise designing curriculum where others worked in community partnerships between school boards. His team asked these experts three distinct questions: “What are the critical challenges that need to be addressed? What are the gaps in our knowledge? And what opportunities do we have?” The kinds of responses they received were enlightening and novel.
Staples explained to the audience that experts from this meeting identified the issue of a curriculum that incorporated peace education to be significant. Mainly, there needs to be more guidance: “teachers have a difficult time in finding where to attach peace education work in the required curriculum that they have to deliver.” There are also challenges of definition that need to be considered. Staples noted: “there's this lack of clarity around what peace education actually is that we needed a clear definition” for.
The policy analyst reinforced, throughout his keynote, the power of social media to enforce the relationship between knowledge dissemination and the youth. A number of organizations are doing things right by taking to virtual platforms to make those connections. There are “so many rich moments, such as “Black Lives Matter” and other opportunities, that could be used to connect to peace education,” says Staples. But that connection needs to be guided by the youth: “there's an element of how we might listen to what students want instead of prescribing what we as adults think they want.”