IN 1982, A GROUP OF HAMILTON EDUCATORS dined and debated at the home of Alan and Hanna Newcombe, two revered elders in the peace community. The group had been brought together by history professor, Paul Dekar, who felt the time had come to bring the issues of peace and war directly into Hamilton's major centre for post-secondary education, McMaster University. That evening, the group began to explore ideas for teaching McMaster's young students how to forge a more peaceful future for the world and its people.
"Peace Studies is growing up in North America out of a sense of urgency, and a sense of the inadequacy of traditional approaches," says Graeme MacQueen, a Professor of Religious Studies at McMaster. "Every morning, students are confronted by a sense of impending crisis" by the media. Yet they are not being equipped to deal, personally nor professionally, with the issues they're asked to face.
For teachers like Dekar and McQueen, the modern university is woefully out of step with the needs and fears of students as citizens: "How can we possibly call ourselves a contemporary learning environment?" asks MacQueen, reflecting the concern he shares with an increasing number of North American educators. A slow but sure response is emerging in the form of peace studies.
The "Mac" professors who gathered together in '82, decided to take a "grass-roots, incremental approach" to the introduction of peace studies. Rather than lobbying for a formal degree, they called upon interested faculty members to redesign or introduce courses with "peace," ranging from strategic conflict resolution to philosophies of human nature, as a central theme. The undergraduate calendar this fall lists 18 social science courses under the "peace studies" banner. At the core lies the course designed by Dekar and McQueen, "Introduction to the Study of Peace." Now in its fourth year, the couse remains as a critical experiment for an eventual Peace Studies program.
None of McMaster's Social Sciences faculty has previous training in peace studies. Thus, "Introduction to the Study of Peace" is as much a learning experience for the teachers as it is for the students. "The method is very important," points out MacQueen, "[since] a part of the objective of peace studies is alternative learning," which envisions for example, a far less passive role for the students.
Dekar and McQueen design the course each year in consultation with their students. Two intensive case studies of conflict in the first term are followed by the discussion of issues and the use of resources that vary according to each group of students.
Not surprisingly, morale building emerged from the course. Half the course time is set aside for small group discussion, where students find "space for personal sharing." The discussions help students, by encouraging them to vocalize concerns and work out strategies of positive involvement.
So far, participating professors feel that their effort is making a difference. Many students are getting more involved outside the class room, according to McQueen; "You discover [that the course] has affected people's lives."
IN 1985, THE PEACE STUDIES COMMITTEE (made up of 12 faculty members), organized the Bertrand Russell Peace Lectures in order to raise their profile. These visible public lectures serve to draw in the broader McMaster and Hamilton community. Ultimately, the committee wishes to generate a climate in which professors, students, and citizens feel they want to get involved. Several new courses in philosophy, history, political science, and other humanities are now underway. Moreover, in February, McMaster gave approval in principle to the foundation of a Centre for Peace Studies, which will concentrate and integrate the efforts of the group.
Soon organizers hope to realize a Master's degree in Peace Studies, to provide a framework for older students who "want some time to reflect more systematically" on how they can contribute to a more peaceful society. The M.A. is a long-term goal. Resources, facilities, as well as provincial approval have not yet been negotiated.
MacQueen for one, is optimistic. Informal programs are developing in universities across Southern Ontario. The University of Waterloo, for example, now recognizes a B.A. Minor concentration in the field. If the universities can continue to cooperate and consult, "Southern Ontario in particular could become a dynamic centre for the generation of creative ideas and moral commitment," according to MacQueen. A welcome boost for a societal movement that's beginning to dig in its heels. p
Patricia Pearson studies journalism at Columbia University.