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Getting Serious About Teaching Peace
Report from October 17 TESOL Forum

Opening Ceremony in the Kay Spiritual Life CenterOn Friday, October 17, 2003, more than 130 educators, mostly from the greater Washington, D.C., area, participated in an all-day "TESOL Forum on Teachers Building a Culture of Peace: Classroom Responses to War and Terrorism," hosted by American University. In his opening remarks, TESOL Executive Director Charles S. Amorosino Jr. reported that the organization was very pleased with the number of participants, which far exceeded the 110 originally anticipated. Registrations were closed a full week ahead of the event because all six workshops were booked to capacity.

Dr. Kay Mussell, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, American University, welcomed participants to the peace forum at the opening ceremony in the Kay Spiritual Life Center Auditorium. Dr. Jones Kyazze, Plenary speakerThen, there were plenary addresses from Dr. Jones Kyazze, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and Dr. Betty Reardon, Founding Director of the Peace Education Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Dr. Kyazze spoke about peace requiring an understanding among cultures, the need to empower women and minorities, and the need to overcome disease and poverty. Dr. Betty Reardon, Plenary SpeakerDr. Reardon outlined a model for incorporating peace education in curriculum, emphasizing the need for learning activities in the realm of what she terms "civil disputation," ways of resolving differences through conversation. Dr. Reardon also noted that, largely due to the work of ESL/EFL teachers around the world for the past half century, America has attracted new generations of visitors and immigrants who now enrich our culture with their diverse perspectives.

There were three concurrent workshops in the morning and three in the afternoon session. In the morning, Alison Milofky, a program officer in the U.S. Institute for Peace's Education Program for secondary education (and manager of the National Peace Essay Contest), invited participants to explore how to teach peace education and provide a global context in the classroom, in her workshop, "Engaging ESL Students in Global Learning." In Alison Milofsky's session, teachers discussed strategies for talking with students about war and terrorism and helping students understand the connection between their lives and world events. Together with those at her workshop, she examined how to involve the entire school community in creating a "culture of peace" through social action.

Zeina Azzam Seikaly and Richard Seikaly lead a
discussion about stereotyped notions of Arabs and MuslimsAnother morning workshop, "Towards a More Balanced View of Arabs and Muslims," facilitated by Richard Seikaly, President of Envisions, and Zeina Azzam Seikaly, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, gave participants an opportunity to reflect on our own misconceptions about Islam and the Arab world. The Seikalys started their session with a quiz for us to answer in consultation with others at each table. In discussing these answers, it became very clear that the term "Arab" refers to speakers of the Arabic language, while the term "Muslim" refers to believers in Islam. There are about 300 million Arabs in the world, while there are about 1.2 billion Muslims. Another important concept covered in this workshop had to do with the core similarities among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Perhaps the most powerful experience during this 90-minute workshop was the viewing of a short film, "In My Own Skin," where five young Arab-American women are interviewed in the months following September 11, 2001, and share feelings and insights that go beyond typical stereotypes one may have regarding this cultural group.

The other morning session, "In the Aftermath of Terrorism: A Young Person Asks, 'Am I Safe?'," by Heidi Taylor, Curriculum Associate for the American Red Cross Headquarters, was attended by an overflow, standing-room only crowd. In this workshop, participants learned about empowering young people to prepare for and cope with disasters using the American Red Cross's "Facing Fear: Helping Young People Deal with Terrorism and Other Tragic Events" curriculum for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

At lunch there were animated conversations at every table, as forum-goers touched base with colleagues and met new friends. The majority of those at the TESOL Forum were from the greater D.C. area, including Virginia and Maryland schools, but there were also a number of teachers from New York City and even farther away.

Freestyle Debate Finale, Logical Conversation WorkshopThe afternoon workshops included mine, "Encouraging Civil Discourse with Logical Conversation," in which participants engaged in conversation flowchart activities for incorporating agreement and disagreement in the ESL classroom. These activities, working from a starter list of questions on controversial issues, gave participants a sense of how important awareness and discussion skills can be developed while teachers are providing the means to sensitively address highly relevant and potentially volatile topics. For more than half of this 90 minute workshop, there were non-stop, heated discussions going on among the 35 educators who attended. The final "freestyle" debate pitted the most impressive conversationalists against each other in a discussion of why there are not more men in the teaching profession.

Another afternoon session, "Students as Humanitarians: Integrating Learning and Acting Globally," by Erin Tunney, Program Associate, Interaction, American Council for Voluntary International Action, gave participants a chance to learn about humanitarian organizations working with children around the world and how to bring this work into ones own classroom, building empathy and connections to other parts of the world with ones students. Erin Tunney also helped teachers to explore how their classrooms can become involved in humanitarian work and how they can integrate such projects into various curricular activities.

Julia Morelli, an administrative faculty member at George Mason University and President of Holistic Solutions, Inc., and Deirdre Ritchie, of the Northern Virginia Mediation Services, presented the other afternoon workshop, "What is a 'Culture of Peace'--and How Do We Get There?" Together with participants, they examined key issues involving the development of a "culture of peace" in the classroom, including what a culture of peace means in the context of a classroom setting, how the teacher's own perceptions and culture affect teaching about conflict events involving culture and how to resist, and help students resist, reacting to individuals as representatives of a cultural group.

TESOL's Laura Bryant organized the eventLaura Bryant, Coordinator of Member Relations for TESOL, envisioned and organized this first-ever TESOL Peace Forum. Other TESOL officers, including Executive Director Charles S. Amorosino Jr., Education Programs Director Lou Leto, Conference Services Director Bart Ecker, Member Services Director Pam Williams and Career Services Coordinator Alison O'Neill, were continuously on the move, ensuring the smooth functioning of the entire event. It was a great pleasure to meet these individuals, and a real learning experience to see how they supported the presenters and demonstrated a sincere interest in the quality of each session.

I represented Fort Hays State University at the TESOL Peace Forum, and my trip was paid for with Professional Development funding from the FHSU Provost's Office, additional funding from the FHSU Special Education/ESOL Department where I am a faculty member, and a generous stipend from TESOL. I deeply appreciated the invitation to present on logical conversation activities, which my colleagues from teaching jobs in Japan, Ecuador, New York and Kansas will likely remember me always promoting. I personally had a great time at the TESOL Peace Forum and gained new appreciation for the peace education movement.

Please note that descriptions of the four workshops I was unable to attend were drawn primarily from the TESOL brochure for this event, still available for download at:

Report by Robb Scott, Hays, KANSAS

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