Peace Education and the Innsbruck School of Peace Studies

When we hear the term peace education most of us spontaneously think of children and schools. How shall the next generation be best prepared for the non-violent transformation of the conflicts we predict and expect in their future? From the Innsbruck School of Peace Studies’ epistemological standpoint this goal raises two questions

  1. When do conflicts happen?
  2. Whose conflict? Whose peace?

When do conflicts happen?

Everybody who studies in Innsbruck steps from the very beginning into the power of now, as our anthem All is Welcome Here literally says. That is, conflicts never happen in the future. They always and necessarily happen now. If not, they are not conflicts but rather memories or stories about the past or projections, that is, fantasies about a feared or desired, but not yet real future. Memories and projections can cause conflicts in the here and now, because they disconnect us from our actual environment and hamper our current relations. They stand between us and our reality. But they are not the very conflict.

If we agree on that, it follows that peace education can only mean the private or institutional frame that the older generation creates for the younger one. It is not about the conflicts that our children may have in an imagined future but it is all about their current conflicts. Being a child means carving one’s primordial matrix and one’s basic patterns of perception and behavior. A child does not make experiences. Experiences gradually make the person that began life as a child, an adult member of family, community and society. How the child transforms a – childish and therefore very serious and important – conflict, how the child balances an unstable situation, how the child harmonizes a dysfunctional relation becomes part of the primordial matrix, the set of deep and later hardly revisable belief sentences of the adult being. Beliefs are not realities but they create realities. That is why peace educators are important actors and factors in any given society. As such they are not certified experts who go to schools and teach the children their own peace, but constantly available providers of the frame that allows the children in each moment of their young life to test, challenge and modify their relations, conflicts and beliefs constructively. The expert is not the one who knows how peace works and how it has to be made in the future but the one who is wise, skilled, strong and patient enough for constantly re-modeling the required frame.

Whose conflict? Whose peace?

From that follows that a peace educator is not somebody who trains young brains in making peace. Peace is not an objective status “out there”. Individual, familial, communal, societal and global conflicts cannot be resolved mechanically and mathematically. Peace unveils itself only relationally to a perceiving subject. Therefore even the wisest peace educator cannot transfer the peace of his mind prescriptively to the one of a student. Peace education begins with the educator who first has to learn how, when, where and why peace is there for him or herself. Then the educator has to understand that this peace is not what future students have to learn. It is only that the educator generates from this personal peace perspective the energy that allows him or her to be the provider for the future students’ own enquiry into what their peaces might be. The Latin word e-ducare means eliciting what is already ingrained in the learner, not giving, transferring or imposing on the other what one has learned before.

The experiences taught us the holistic lesson that professors, peace educators at a university, are but providers of providers of providers.

All of that hopefully sounds familiar to those who have studied in Innsbruck. It is not an exclusive property of our school. It can be found in half a century old textbooks of philosophy, sociology, psychology, neuro-science and education. Yet, it is still far from academic mainstream. Against all evidence modern educators and their programs mostly aim to make young academics fit for the challenges of a future that they imagine and promise as progressive and competitive. Didactically this calls for educators as givers, not as providers. This may have changed a bit nowadays if it comes to Kindergarten and primary schools. However, most universities still today understand themselves as treasure chambers of knowledge and research laboratories for adults. Hence they have never been too concerned about changing didactics. It utmost seems that positivistic sciences’ obsession of finding, knowing and guarding the objective truth results in a distinct neglect of didactical virtue.

The Innsbruck School of Peace Studies started Transrational Peace Philosophy and Elicitive Conflict Transformation 16 years ago from the then latest insights and methods of postmodern philosophy, humanistic psychology, sociological system theory and the respective didactics. Thus, we could not restrict ourselves to preaching the ideal of the peace educator as a provider to our students. We had to invent and hence elevate the same to didactical praxis for the University’s Master’s program, because there was hardly a blueprint to be found. The history of the Innsbruck School is to a certain extend also an applied research for peace education and respective didactics on the highest academic level. I do not call it a laboratory because respecting students does not allow experiments with them. Still it is necessarily a learning by doing endeavor. Also we, the distinguished faculty, are not making experiences but we are made by experiences. Yes, this program was lucky when it attracted academics of quality and commitment. This allowed us to take the one or the other chance, to explore, to stand the frustration of failure and to celebrate achievements together. The experiences taught us the holistic lesson that professors, peace educators at a university, are but providers of providers of providers. We incorporated the educational principle that humans of any age learn in the sequence of

  • understanding contents intellectually;
  • testing them on the safe ground that has to be provided by the program;
  • evaluating and facilitating the learners’ incorporation of what they consider relevant for their further life.

Learning then, is not only a matter of the mind but of the whole person, which includes the physical, sexual, emotional, mental and spiritual layers. Peace education further has to regard the familial, communal, societal and policital context, because the learning experience of an individual member always changes the whole social system. That raises a lot of ethical regards for the provider.

This is in a nutshell the didactical meaning of Elicitive Conflict Transformation. We do not simply teach our students cognitively the methods and means of this art and science. We try to live it in the classroom, in the training field and in our personal and professional relations. If you don’t know anyway, if you do not believe, if you want to come and check for yourself – you are always welcome here!

Image Sources:

  • Featured Image: © Tilly Sünkel
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