WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND THEY ARE OURS
Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Peace Leadership in Practice. Part 2 of a series on Peace Leadership.
In a recent post on Peace Leadership I expressed my profound sadness over the state of affairs in our world today. Particularly when it comes to peace, love, and understanding (with apologies to singer-songwriter Elvis Costello). It's personal with me. Schools are microcosms of society. No longer safe havens, schools are being fortified nationwide to thwart the enemy...and the enemy is us. Or, more appropriately, as Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry actually said during the War of 1812, "We have met the enemy and they are ours." Perry's pronouncement has been artistically paraphrased in divergent contexts for 100 years and has morphed into a potent aphorism of social criticism.
In the context of managing conflict, bullying, and social tensions in the schoolhouse, the approach a school takes (the hidden curriculum: the implicit citizenship learning of students) often collides with the explicit citizenship teaching of students (intended curriculum).
As my father used to say when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s: "Don't do as I do, do as I say!"
While poignantly not paraphrased in this case, the original Perry quote pierces our sensibilities as stewards of the common good. As educators, we all share part of the responsibility for falling into an equity trap. Consequently, we adopt undemocratic, inequitable, and unsustainable policies, regulations, and methodologies that have proven to disproportionally target marginalized populations of students. Until drawing conclusions from false premises is recognized as a bad practice and identified for what it is: a paralogical belief with dire consequences, most notably the school to prison pipeline, I'm afraid there's little hope for reform. Thankfully, many of us have rejected that premise (BTW - We are the same people who have also rejected the Bell Curve and the notorious thesis that intelligence is distributed unequally among races and is resistant to change). There are promising practices designed around a belief system rooted in a fundamental principle of social-emotional learning: the academic child cannot be separated from the social, emotional, and economic trauma and strife that undermine learning and limit opportunity. There's little debate that social, emotional and cognitive capacities are intertwined and interdependent. The enemy of academic achievement is not wasted opportunity, it's the absence of opportunity.
The enemy of academic achievement is not wasted opportunity, it's the absence of opportunity.
My doctoral students and I are examining curriculum, from a 30,000-foot view, using a Peace Leadership lens. We're currently focused on the hidden curriculum, which for the interest of this essay refers to the unspoken values, behaviors, procedures, and norms that exist is many schools. Unlike the other layers of curriculum (i.e. formal curriculum, operational curriculum, taught curriculum, assessed curriculum, learned curriculum), the hidden curriculum lies under the surface and is implicit, not explicit. Ironically, it's most noticeable from 30,000 feet.
Since an assumption is a premise that is not explicitly stated, let me lay some groundwork before moving forward to avoid any confusion. Peacekeeping is a necessary condition for democracy. And it can serve schools well, if integrated into a comprehensive school-wide behavioral management system that is designed to not only cultivate a positive, predictable, and safe environment, but more importantly, to serve as a framework to address all threats to student and staff well being, both physically and socio-emotionally. The reality of how peacekeeping actually plays out in schools, however, is part and parcel of the #MakeAmericanSchoolsSafeAgain movement.
Peacekeeping initiatives thrive in fear-based environments (when human, civil, and constitutional rights become relatively less important) despite the false premises they are built upon and the empty promise of punitive codes of conduct and anti-harassment initiatives that have been proven over and over again to be counterproductive, undemocratic, unwelcoming, and unsustainable.
For many good reasons, none greater than equity, more and more schools are moving towards constructive dialogue, and social development, in recognition of the above-mentioned social, emotional, and economic turmoil common in the lives of students with histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect. Instead of isolating, punishing, and pushing out as a general rule, historically marginalized students (and all students for that matter) are being provided intentional and deliberate educational and counseling services (the ultimate bellwether of a conscionable and principled LCAP). Schools are decriminalizing common misbehaviors in the name of equity and opportunity, which lies at the core of non-exclusionary alternatives to common peacekeeping practices. After all, we are all shareholders in the American Dream (For more on the American Dream, read my blog, No Snowflake in an Avalanche Ever Feels Responsible).
Though sometimes viewed as the opposite of peacekeeping and to the left of peace-making, peace-building is not so much an alternative approach as it is a complimentary practice. Peace-building is a strategy of conflict-management that has long possessed the potential to deepen democracy through a hidden curriculum that prepares students to be engaged and positive citizens.
Unfortunately, the fitful peace-building movement, rooted in ancient traditions of aboriginal communities in North America and elsewhere who were more concerned with the process of healing and the restoration of harmony than they were punishment, continues to sputter almost twenty years after schools began searching for their souls (i.e. alternatives to zero-tolerance models).
More recently, as zero-tolerance polices have been mostly legislated out of existence, the path to peace-building systems (which for the purpose of this class discussion is defined as a comprehensive, long-term, multifaceted system for mitigating and preventing destructive conflict through social transformation) has emerged again. Since California's SB 419 (the willful defiance law) extended the out-of-school K-5 suspension ban through grade 8, schools are looking more towards building peace, instead of just keeping it.
As the peace-building movement begins to pick up steam it's likely to come into conflict and even collide with the prevailing winds of zero-tolerance that appear to be blowing hard in the national narrative, during this painful period in our history when the enemy of peace is ours. But to end on a sour note would be totally anathema to writing an essay on something as positive as social justice and changing the trajectory of students victimized by bad policy and shameful practices. So, back to Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who in addition to saying, "We have met the enemy and they are ours." is also credited with saying “Don’t give up the ship.”
True to the age-old literary practice of paraphrasing and transforming poignant, profound, and pithy quotes into aphorisms: "Don't ever give up on a kid."