Doris Balvín, senior researcher at the New Civilization Humanist Studies Center in Lima, Peru and a specialist in social ecology, spoke with Pressenza about education for peace and non-violence in times of social and ecological crisis.
Pressenza: Could education contribute to building peace and non-violence in these times of social and ecological crisis?
D.B.: Indeed, for the New Civilization Center for Humanist Studies, education is a central issue because it concerns the essence of humanity. Learning is the most valuable expression of the human intention launched to complete the object of its search. Because when this intentional act finds the answer, it produces satisfaction and releases energy to be able to launch the next search attempt. As human beings, we are part of that construction of personal and collective learning to which those who preceded us have left throughout human history.
Looking at education this way, this is life, transformation, an open future, and above all, a collective construction of a society that aspires to become an expression of the best intentions of human beings.
Pressenza: With education understood in this way, who would be the educators and what would their role be?
DB: All adults who interact with new generations are educators because we are referents, we transmit knowledge and values. We can: a) try to impose the values of a society that no longer exists – in the sense that today we are facing another context very different from the one that corresponded to our training – or b) we are preparing to educate ourselves for the future to come, that is, to enable the new generations to lay the bricks that can build that spiral of collective learning that transforms the world in an evolutionary direction. Or, in other words, so that they discover and set in motion the mission for which they feel they came into the world.
Pressenza: What context is education facing today?
D.B .: We can say that we are faced with the inertia of the past, but at the same time with the construction of the future. That future which opens with each daily action in our immediate environments, both in the family and at work, when we put the construction of non-violent relationships ahead of us – non-violence understood as the aspiration to overcome the personal and social violence that we face every day – and not just the denial of it.
Pressenza: And what happens if we follow the inertia of society in crisis?
D.B .: We are plunged into a reality where daily violence is crudely manifested and it is in this social context that education operates today. A society in which violence is naturalized. We live with it and educate on it. They are the values of a society in decline -those that without intending to- we transmit to the new generations, hoping that they -for what we say- will act with “values to which we aspire” when with our actions we show that we do the opposite. We are talking about a context of violence that has a structural character because it is institutionalized, that is, it is at the root of the very social organization of which we are part and which we end up justifying.
D.B .: Of course, we are talking about violence against human beings and against nature. Proof of this is the normalization of poverty, of social inequity, of unlimited accumulation – by a small group of the world population to the detriment of the great majorities on a planet that is finite – and that as scientists point out of the Intergovernmental Group on Climate Change, is reaching its point of no return, the one in which our very existence as a human species is being put at risk (1).
What is even more serious is that education is at the service of maintaining this “status quo” since it does not question its violent origin. It seeks that the new generations “adapt” without question, to respond to the needs of a model of social organization that no longer responds to present or future needs. A system that has not been able to meet the needs of the great majority and that sharpens the gap between rich and poor, leaving in its wake the destruction of our common home. A model that prioritizes the Gross Domestic Product over the well-being of the majority and that turns its back on science – which has been raising the alarm about the risk we have as a result of the climate crisis. We have also seen it clearly in this pandemic – which is precisely a consequence of the pressure on virgin ecosystems – and in government decisions. In the Peruvian case, for example, when the government had to decide to paralyze the country because the public health system could not respond to the potential number of people infected by COVID-19 that it was forecasting. We see it in the starkest expression of violence: wars, or in the most subtle ones -when it is assumed that the new generations are “empty boxes” that must be filled with instrumental knowledge to maintain this “status quo”.
Pressenza: What would be the way out then if the intention is to contribute in the direction of a non-violent society?
D.B .: In education, we face the dilemma of transmitting knowledge aimed at perpetuating the model or taking up the challenge of contributing to an education for peace and non-violence aimed at building the future we long for. In this context, trying to educate in peace and non-violence, that is, without changing the mechanisms that perpetuate it, is a challenge that educators face every day. An educational system that trains the new generations to operate in today’s society when what is required is to educate in response to the needs of the future.
Here we are faced with life and entirely personal choices. As educators, if we choose not to continue in repetition, we make the personal decision not to continue in the inertia, we will bet on the construction of non-violent personal and social environments. This is a life option, a construction that is carried out outside of “common sense”, against the current, but with the certainty that we are going in the right direction. It is the call of the future that breaks through and that tunes us in with the sensitivity of the new generations. In this silent effort, there are thousands of educators who are finding non-violent solutions to the current crisis and who enable in the new generations the expression of the sacred that each child brings in the depth of their consciousness to contribute to the world. It is a wonderful job that colors the future with hope. From these experiences, we have many examples.
Pressenza: How could we prepare to live, coexist, and educate in this complex environmental and social context?
D.B .: Preparing ourselves to navigate in a complex, violent context and on the brink of climate collapse that we have been experiencing as humanity – where the future doesn’t seem to break through – requires having a kind of “GPS”. For us, this is “the golden rule”. We call this the rule that says “treat others as you want to be treated.” This is a rule that is present in the different spiritualities and that comes from very old times in human history. A rule that implies a look inside oneself and that leads me to ask myself, how would I like to be treated? Because sometimes we don’t really know how we would like to be treated. and then another look at the other, and ask myself, what could I do to treat the other in the same way that I would like to be treated? So we are talking about a rule that implies looking at the other as the human being that he is and that he deserves the same treatment that I deserve. This is a change of perspective and of location in front of the others, but how to make its application possible?
Pressenza: What initiatives has the Study Center been developing in this direction?
D. B.: It is precisely the interest of the Center for Humanist Studies to contribute with educational initiatives aimed at promoting peace and non-violence in the different areas of human endeavor, with the application of the said golden rule as the basis for action.
We accompany youth groups that have been placing on the national political agenda the need to become aware of the climate crisis that we are facing and that requires a substantial change in the current paradigm, to overcome violence against Mother Earth. Reflection and collective action that calls for a radical change in cultural paradigms regarding our way of living and relating to nature and among human beings, putting science and technology at the service of life and not of particular interests that reinforce the violence.
We revalue the educational practices of peace and non-violence in education, an action carried out by the Network of Humanist Educators – made up of teachers from Peru and abroad – who develop, collect and disseminate experiences of non-violent practices from schools. Today they are carrying out a second call for teaching stories called “Experiences in the Construction of a Non-violent Humanizing Education, in Times of Crisis”. This was launched within the framework of the celebration of “Non-violent October 2020” in Ecuador, together with the Universalist Humanist Pedagogical Current – COPEHU (in the first call made in 2017, teachers wrote stories about good practices that build Peace and Non-violence in schools, on the occasion of the celebration of the International Day of Non-violence, an initiative developed jointly with the Unesco office in Peru and COPEHU).
Likewise, the Study Center implements the Humanist Ethics Course at the Faculty of Sciences and Engineering of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. This course, which has reached more than 600 students to date, uses the methodology of non-violence, reflects on overcoming revenge, develops the ethics of valid action and the view of the human being as a central value in society. It is a course that allows students to know themselves, as well as to investigate current social problems that they will face in their professional work. It proposes that students carry out actions in their environment, experiences that they themselves develop as a team during the subject. The course allows students to connect with deep internal registers, necessary to attend from this space the moment that is lived.
D.B .: Very grateful to Pressenza for the interview, I would just like to take this opportunity to invite you to the following initiatives that humanism has been promoting and that goes in the direction of an education for peace and non-violence in times of crisis– the adhesion and dissemination campaign to the Humanist Document promoted by the World Center for Humanist Studies. The interest of the campaign is to contact people interested in participating in an area of exchange and humanistic action. If you want to adhere to this document or disseminate it, you can enter the following link:
Likewise, we await you at the V Latin American Humanist Forum: “Building a future in diversity”, this November 26, 27, and 28, which will have a virtual modality. (2) Space that will allow us to reflect on the construction of the future to which we aspire at the Latin American level and that we are opening with our actions.
(1) See Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Global Warming of 1.5 G °”, Summary for Policymakers, 2019.
(2) More information on how to participate can be found at:http://forohumanista.org/
Translation by Lulith V., from the voluntary Pressenza translation team. We are looking for volunteers!