Jim Arey is a 2001 Golden Apple Award Winner. He and his students have provided outstanding service to Illinois schools and surrounding communities.
Students learn about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and, should time permit, the War on Terror.
In their time as students, however, what do they learn about non-violent movements that also helped shape world history? Even more important, what have they learned about what each individual can do to help promote peace?
Have my students heard of Mohandis K. Gandhi? Do they know that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, or that the Hopi Indians pray and promote peace through ceremonies that maintain an important balance and harmony in the world? Do they know about the world peace movement?
Addressing this educational imbalance was one of my professional goals this year as teacher and coordinator of an experiential learning program at Elk Grove High School. In class we made an effort to study Gandhi and King and other peace leaders. We learned to apply these principles of nonviolence to our lives and to the lives of others through a variety of service projects.
One project that received high praise from both students and adults was our effort to promote peace by giving away peace poles made by Peace Pole Makers USA. Using grant money from the Shinyo-En Foundation and profits from our Junior Achievement Company program, we managed to raise enough funds to purchase five peace poles during the 2003-2004 school year.
Once funds had been secured, my role as teacher and coordinator was to connect the curriculum and my students to the larger community through extensive contacts with the Golden Apple Foundation. Golden Apple Fellows and Golden Apple Scholars who are now teaching in area schools embraced the idea and a partnership developed.
Working with their own faculties, these dedicated individuals motivated the adults and children to accept and perpetuate our gift of peace. These same individuals identified appropriate areas that today thrive as peace gardens. These gardens serve as safe areas where people can celebrate, discuss and learn to honor one another, the environment, plants, animals and all creations on the earth.
Our role as gift bearers varied according to the school and to the dedication ceremony each school developed. The beauty of the project was that each school had its own vision of what the event would look like and we helped bring their ideas to life. At some schools my students addressed individual classrooms and talked about their high school experiences and what each of them had done to promote peace. Often my students spoke to the entire school about the history of the peace pole and the peace movement that is underway throughout the world.
Regardless of the tasks, at the end of the day my students came away with a different perspective. Many spoke of the awesome sight of so many children gathered in the community to celebrate peace. Others felt hopeful by comments made from the children that perhaps the world can be a better place and that each of us can make a difference in the world.
Hope, positive action, belief that a small group of thoughtful, caring, and committed people can make a difference – these are the driving forces behind the effort. Taught as a curriculum, transcended beyond the classroom walls through service, and then presented to thousands of others in schools across the Chicagoland area, this peace effort is a labor of love.
The passing of the peace is a project that is in its infancy. To date we have managed to imbue seven schools with this most important message. Our efforts are not without controversy, however. Prior to the Bush administration’s preemptive war on Iraq, one school felt the timing of the event would be political. The school administration did not want to be perceived as making a statement that could be interpreted as a lack of support for the President.
Some see the giving away of peace poles as a diversion of funds and energy. With a stagnant economy and cumulative effects of years of state budget crises that are squeezing school districts, couldn’t the money be better spent on resources that impact instruction? And what about diverting attention away from the true goal of schools - test score improvement. What does peace have to do with accountability?
The perpetuation of peace, however, is not a political statement, nor is it a diversion from accountability. It is about changing perspective. As I stated earlier, I knew my students were familiar with the violence of war, but I wondered how familiar they were with peace. As a teacher, I asked the question. The answers I received were priceless.
Together we are running to a higher purpose, running in the sense that,
if we are to get on the right side of this world revolution, we must act
today. As Dr. King said in his speech delivered on April 6, 1968,
to the Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City:
The students at Elk Grove High School have made their choice. May peace prevail.