Joanna Santa Barbara is a child psychiatrist who came to Canada from Australia in the '70s. She serves on the national board of the Canadian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and is a popular speaker. Dr. Santa Barbara reserves a day or two each week for lecturing and writing on the psychological aspects of peace. She works with a group at McMaster University to develop a peace studies program, and this year has been co-teaching one of the courses in that new program.
She lives in a big old brick farmhouse near Hamilton, Ontario, with her psychologist husband, Jack, and their sons, Jonah, Joshua, and Jeffrey. Born "Joanne," she came to prefer-- and recently adopted-- the mistake people made with her name-- Joanna with an "a."
ANN CROSBY: Your peace work focuses on children's perceptions of the nuclear threat.
JOANNA SANTA BARBARA: Yes, it's a real anxiety for at least half of the children. Eleven and twelve-year-olds are the most worried. They know concretely and vividly what will happen in a nuclear explosion, and they think of it as happening to them, to their mother and father, to their pets. There's a build-up of this anxiety before the age of eleven or twelve and some kids as young as four or five experience it. They learn about it from the media-- television, newspapers, and magazines. It's demonstrable that children are more aggressive when they play in the presence of war toys and after they've watched violent television. Also, their peers and the school environment powerfully mold them to be aware of aggression.
Parents who care about these issues are really up against the pervasive values in our society. To raise a child who cherishes cooperation between people is not easy, but it is far from impossible. For instance, one doesn't have to censor everything children watch on TV. Instead one can use television programs as an opportunity to raise values. One can say to the child, "I wonder why they have to use their laser guns on those aliens. Why didn't they talk to them first about the problem?"
CROSBY: Your peace work, then, is not on children's anxiety about the nuclear threat per se, but on the management of that anxiety?
SANTA BARBARA: Very much so. Usually people want me to talk about how anxious children are, and I do, but my own bent is to say that, yes, we should know that, but then what should we do about this? We are not looking for anything exotic or unusual. Peacemaking can be parenting or teaching. We have to think about what qualities in children will promote human survival. With what qualities can we imbue our own children that will enable them to become democratic decision-makers? What qualities will help them move the world from the suicidal course it is on to a more constructive one?
CROSBY: What can parents do?
SANTA BARBARA: And teachers. I love to talk to teachers. To be citizens of a more peaceful world, children need to learn skills in cooperation and nonviolent conflict resolution, and in good communication. Early in their development they need to learn that the circle of our compassion, to use a phrase of Einstein's, is the whole world and not just the family, or the classroom, or Canada. This can be conveyed to young children by the way we live, the way we educate them, and the values we communicate-- caring, sharing, cooperating, and feeling personally responsible. Children can learn that it is not enough to understand problems; there's also a responsibility to act on them. And children must have a sense of efficacy-- that they have power to make a difference.
Strategies can be taught in the family and the classroom that give children some appropriate power as individuals. For example, families can use problem-solving techniques. Rather than by parental edict, the problems are solved in family consultation. Everyone has a right to participate. In brainstorming for solutions, it may be the solution of the child or several children together that is eventually adopted. In family discussions it is possible to demonstrate win-win solutions. Children learn that conflicts can be resolved to the satisfaction of everybody, rather than there being a winner and a loser.
Children should have the right to bring up their own agenda. This strategy conveys to children that they have power in the family. Classroom strategies can be similar and can help children to feel personal power and mutual respect from others in the classroom and school environment.
CROSBY: Are schools beginning to teach these skills?
SANTA BARBARA: Yes . I see some schools adopting, with enthusiasm, cooperative game-playing programs such as those outlined in Terry Orlick's book, The Cooperative Sports and Games Book: Challenge Without Competition. Also, schools are becoming interested in nuclear awareness programs. I spoke last week to about a hundred history teachers and administrators from three boards in Waterloo-Wellington Region who are introducing a nuclear awareness unit into world issues studies. This is a well conceived unit, focusing solely on the nuclear arms issue, and many of those present had been teaching it already, experimenting with it. The interest in this is high.
CROSBY: Do you have faith that the generation of children we are raising now will be able to make a difference?
SANTA BARBARA: Oh... (sigh), yes, well, whether it will be good enough I don't know. But better, yes. I do see a steadily expanding recognition of our interdependence as a framework for decision-making. I see an increasing recognition of the planet as a whole, as a system, ecologically, economically, socially, and in terms of security. Yes, I see slow but palpable changes, not just in kids but in our generation. That gives me hope, for we must develop social structures and human potential to resolve conflicts without violence, to distribute the world's resources justly. That involves how we rear our children. p
Ann Crosby , of Voice of Women, is also a graduate student.