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On the occasion of the ‘International Day of Education‘, UPF Germany hosted a peace talk to discuss what kind of education or training creates conditions in which peace can exist and thrive.

In his introductory remarks, UPF chairman Karl-Christian Hausmann, commented that the term education in English can, when translated into German, mean either formal education or upbringing /moral education. Concerning formal education, PISA studies attest to considerable deficits in Germany, such as in reading and writing abilities in primary school children. More crucial however is the question of moral education. The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson sees the breakdown of our values as a greater threat than climate change, because ‘if society forgets its moral values, nihilism and terror will soon prevail.’

Mathias von Gersdorff, online from Frankfurt, holds a diploma in economics and is chairman of Action Children in Danger. In the December edition of his newsletter Culture and Media he warns about the neglect of the moral education of children. A committed Catholic and author of several books, he engages primarily with two topics: the moral neglect of children and violence. Whereas in the 1990s the protection of children from pornography and violence was still a hotly debated topic in the media, today, despite the deterioration of the situation with the growth of the internet, this is hardly discussed in public. On the contrary, violence has already become part of the culture of youth and the everyday life of children through video war games and the dissemination of real-life scenes of violence on social media.

Furthermore, Mr von Gersdorff pointed out the reinforcing influences of violence and sexual neglect. In many countries, children are at an increasingly young age exposed to pornography and are sexually violent towards even younger children. And violence has become more complex. In horror films where there used to be the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’, one finds today a syncretism of violence, eroticism, esotericism, occultism and satanism. Children are easily influenced by peer groups and are exposed to increasing desensitisation and brutality.

On top of this, is the fact that a tendency to violence and sexual neglect is also promoted by extremist factions. Engels, for example considered an all-embracing love for mankind to be an absurdity and demanded hatred instead of love. In his writings, Che Guevara propagated hatred of the enemy as a political and ideological weapon of the revolutionary who could thereby become an effective, destructive killing machine. Excessive violence at demonstrations by left extremists display such ideologically fuelled destructive rage but are mostly ignored by the media and politicians.

In closing, Mr von Gersdorff brought up the connection between unstable families and violence. The neglect and destruction of the family drives children into despair and disorientation and creates a spiritual vacuum. Studies of terrorism show that most of the perpetrators have experienced trauma in in early childhood and have had early exposure to violence. The social situation deteriorates as families become less stable. Politicians therefore should do everything in their power to foster stable families. It is alarming that mainstream politics today is in many respects directed instead against stable marriages and families, for example by encouraging gender and early childhood sexualisation in the education system.

Mr Hausmann drew attention to the discrepancy between this reality and the constitutions of the federal states regarding education. The constitutions of Baden Württenberg and Bavaria, for example, state educational goals such as: reverence for God, the brotherhood of man, respect for religious beliefs and the dignity of man, love of peace, moral and political responsibility, a liberal -democratic attitude, a sense of responsibility for nature and the environment as well as heart and character education in school. The now prevalent secular -liberal paradigm of German government policy has driven religion out of schools and public life. One must always maintain an awareness of the political dimension of education, which, according to Nelson Mandela is the most powerful world-changing weapon. Because it can be used for good or evil.

Karl-Christian Hausmann (top left), Bogdan Pammer (top right), Matthias von Gersdorff (below)

The second speaker, Bogdan Pammer, lives near Linz, in Austria. He taught for seven years in a private Protestant high school in Linz and is currently president of IAYSP (International Association of Youth and Students for Peace). He organises youth conferences and projects in Europe, USA and the Middle East to bring to young people an awareness of the values necessary for peace. Mr Pammer sees the teaching of values in the context of building peace and the prevention of violence and considers character building to be crucial. We need character not only for our own success and for long-term, sustainable relationships, but good character is also a basic pre-requisite for a functioning democracy.

The form of social and character education in the school is decisive. More content, for example in the form of more religious study lessons or a subject on ethical and moral development would not help much; of greater importance is to share experiences. When he was class teacher for 14–18-year-old pupils, he learned the effectiveness of the class council model. The class council is held every week and conveys experiences such as self-efficacy, empathy, and a sense of belonging. It offers a safe space for peaceful discussion of differences of opinion and conflict resolution.

The class council can be compared to the family council with which he, as the oldest of four siblings, grew up. Every week there was a family council where each member could speak out what was on his / her mind. Even though he grew up with computer games and other challenges of modern life, he was helped to better deal with problematic issues by this experience of unity in the family. In the class council, the role of parents is filled by two teachers -one male, and one female. They do not act as leaders but convey an inner moral authority which enables the pupils to engage in fraternal, democratic dialogue.

The pupils rotate through three roles: class chairman, secretary, and discussion monitor. Each pupil may bring up a theme with which he or she has been dealing during the preceding school week, be it to praise or to present a problem. The topics are discussed, and the teachers must also register if they wish to contribute to the discussion. This model affords a protected environment for better solutions to peer-conflicts than when only parents or class teachers make the decisions.

When pupils experience a whole school year in which they can every week experience that difficult topics and intense conflicts can be dealt with in the classroom, their confidence grows that conflict resolution is possible. Experience teaches them to deal with conflict and violence in a healthy and good way, to be able to stand up for themselves, to respectfully disagree, and to find solutions in a community. These small-level experiences are a pre-requisite for peace building and a capacity for democracy, and lead to better results than working alone or trying to convince someone else. ‘In order to save our democracy’, asserted Mr Pammer, ‚we are challenged today in our schools and families, to do more to give young people such experiences of self-responsibility and community within the framework of parental love.’

The peace designer training offered by IAYSP (a global NGO with close connections to UPF), encourages young people to assume responsibility not only for their own lives, but also for their environment. Young people often propound one of two extreme attitudes. Either: ‚we have the solution for everything, and previous generations have failed’ or ‘we young people are unable to do anything at all.’ Peace designer training seeks a middle ground to offer concrete experiences in dealing realistically with societal issues. The goal is to convey that although it is difficult to change anything in our environment, it is possible.

Mr Hausmann concluded by stating that the basis of formal and moral education is education of the heart which takes place from birth onwards through the example of the family. Norm education, like education of the heart, belongs to the realm of universal education. Individual education, be it in the physical, technical, or intellectual sphere is mainly taught in school. Therefore, when it comes to education, one should think not only of the school, but also of the family.

Then followed a question-and-answer session where interesting comments were made about the family and its irreplaceability by the state, the origin and meaning of the terms education and training, the necessity of good guidance for moral development, the inter- generational transmission of values and traditions, as well as a family image of father, mother and children.

Link to recording of the peace talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUpQTxn6-1w

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