Johan Galtung on Language & Peace Education

EDUCATION, 9 Jun 2014

Donna J. McInnis, Soka University – Japan Association for Language Teaching

Johan Galtung, one of the founders of modern peace studies, is Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Hawaii, the University of Witten-Herdecke, the European Peace University, and the University of Tromso. In 1959 he established the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) and in 1964 the Journal of Peace Research. He has published over 50 books, including Human Rights in Another Key (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) and Peace by Peaceful Means (London: Sage, 1995).

Dr. Galtung was in Japan in May and June [1996] as a visiting professor at Soka University in Hachioji, Tokyo.

DM: What is peace education?

JG: There has been a general shift in emphasis in peace education since the Cold War ended: from peace/war knowledge to conflict competence. Conflict competence can be taught from kindergarten to Ph.D. to old age. In kindergarten, children can be taught awareness of conflict, of listening, of justice, gerecht, and especially injustice, ungerecht. In elementary school, students can learn the A(ttitude), B(ehavior) and C(ontradiction) of conflict with a good book containing examples from not only Buddha-Jesus-Gandhi Inc. but also from ordinary people.

In high school, students can be taught concrete approaches to conflict. At the college or university level students can pursue an MA in Peace and Conflict Resolution, MPCR. This would be a two year course with an internship, field work and a thesis, with core courses on violence and peace, and specializations linked to basic human needs: peace with security, peace with economic justice, peace with freedom, and peace with culture. George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and the European Peace University in Austria near Vienna offer this.

In adult education courses, there are many aspects on which to focus. The courses can focus on dialogue as an approach in general, as different from debate; on inner dialogue as a way of doing meditation; on learning how to cope with self-destructive anger, gnawing on the inside in angry dialogues, and other-destructive anger, expressed verbally or in body language; on violence, on reconciliation after violence, and on learning about violence.

DM: Why should it concern language teachers?

JG: Because you are building bridges between nations. For that reason, the topic is much broader than just language.

DM: What do you mean?

JG: We increasingly live multiculturally. With little contact with other nations and their cultures, unicultural education could be excused, chances being that most contact would be with people from the same culture, even from the same local community. Even teaching the national, usually meaning the dominant, culture and language was going far, literally speaking. This is no longer so today. Unicultural education is insufficient preparation for life in a multicultural reality, not only at the world level but also in the local social practice of an increasing number of people. In the field of language, this has been recognized. The foreigner among us, as tourist, worker, refugee has to learn our culture. We do not have to learn his, but if we don’t we miss a fabulous opportunity. And one day we may be that tourist, worker, refugee.

DM: How might language teachers contribute to peace?

JG: Well, exactly like Paulo Freire, you have a unique situation because you have so much to talk about. So, you make Peace a topic to discuss; in addition, of course, to discussing the characteristics of the nations and the difficulties of making contact.

Just as for languages, what is demanded is not to believe in other cultures more than in one’s own. What is demanded is competence, respect, understanding — a sense of being familiar with, and at home in, other cultures. Just as we borrow words and expressions from other languages, we shall borrow from other cultures, and have always done so in a spirit of exchange.

DM: So you are saying that this is one of the requirements for global citizenship?

JG: In some years the unicultural person will be regarded like the monoglot [a person who knows only one language] today: human, but unfit for this world. In ever-widening circles in the world, to be monoglot is like being illiterate, a condition to do something about. So my guess is that this attitude will generalize to culture. To be not only disrespectful but without any knowledge of the basics of other cultures will simply be regarded as “bad manners,” as something to be corrected, starting with knowledge of religions.

DM: What would you suggest then for language textbooks and textbook writers in promoting peace?

JG: The time has now come to write about religion and other aspects of cultures, not only languages. Just as parents and schools will have to give children and students knowledge of languages other than their own, their task will also be to give them insight into cultures other than their own, including religions, cultures of the spirit, and ways of behaving, cultures of the body. In addition to textbook learning, the methods include media, meetings with people from other cultures in the local community, and travel to other parts of one’s own country and beyond. Just as we appreciate the polyglot person, we should appreciate the multicultural person.

DM: What is the best way to go about teaching this?

JG: Teaching other cultures, like other languages, can best be done by those who have the culture as their mother culture. The culture as seen by them , not only by “our people,” who will tend to teach foreign cultures like foreign languages, with an accent. The goal is for students to understand that other culture as those in the culture do themselves. This is not a question of what is good or what is bad, and everybody is entitled to make comparisons: indeed, that is one of the many purposes of multiculturism. The problem is how to make sure that one has really understood, and the guideline suggested here is to start by understanding the way they themselves understand, and then build your own understanding.

DM: Are there any problems that we should be aware of in introducing peace issues into our language classes?

JG: I think that one should see to it that at least it is done from the two angles that you have in the language classroom, so that if you are from the USA and Japan, for example, see to it that there are issues that will represent these two cultures. I noticed that there was the feeling among some Japanese that foreign language teachers have stereotypes about the Japanese family for instance. All of these things should be brought up in the language classroom.

DM: Do you feel that in order to be objective, teachers should hide their own political beliefs or opinions?

JG: Not at all! As a matter of fact, students are not that stupid, they will see that immediately. And there is no way of being objective anyhow. It doesn’t exist. You see, the teacher should put forward his or her own views but perhaps keep them in the background in order not to dominate the debate, and should provide material where not only the classical two sides but the three, four and five . . . sides of a conflict can be illustrated.

DM: Should there really be people designated as peace educators? Shouldn’t all teachers — whatever their field — be peace educators in some sense?

JG: Yes, there should be people designated as peace educators. And yes, everybody should be a peace educator. They don’t in any way exclude each other. Anybody who talks a foreign language is also a language teacher as I am all the time. In addition to that, we also need language teachers.

DM: You mentioned the importance of multilingualism as a desirable aspect of the global citizen. What are your suggestions for parents to set the stage for multilingual children?

JG: We have tended to take for granted that parents have a right to raise their children in their own national culture, including their own language and religion, and in the myths of their own nation, glories as well as traumas. Nobody will deny them their right to do so. But parents will in the future have no right to do only this, given that raising their children only into their own nation is totalitarian and even constitutes a major form of brainwashing. Of the parents of tomorrow, we would expect not only that they do the task of handing over their own culture and language, but also that they open the windows and doors to other cultures and languages.

DM: But this is a huge task for parents, isn’t it?

JG: Not with the help of movies, travel, TV, and immigrants. To be multiglot or polyglot is not only possible, it is even simple in a world where nations increasingly intermarry and live around each other. Children pick up languages easily. They have a very high capacity for learning and mastering languages with no clear upper limit. But for each language, a deep bond — a parent, a friend, a beloved teacher — is needed. Languages flow along the bonding, making learning from significant others easier than school learning, except when there is bonding with the teacher or classmates of that language. The language is part of that person. Learning becomes a question of tuning in to the right person for the right language, until you master the tongue and can converse freely with anybody. Each significant other should speak only one language to the child. There should be a unity of person and language, no ambiguity. And you shouldn’t worry too much about mistakes but repeat sentences slowly and correctly, without too much focus on what is wrong. In this process, the child should have the chance to come back to significant others for “refresher courses.” These roots are very deep. The same goes for culture.

It is entirely possible to be reasonably polyglot and polycultural at the individual level and at the community level. It is immensely enriching, like living several parallel lives. Some immersion is needed in the significant other and the neighbor or friend. Schooling is a poor substitute for those, but certainly has a role to fill.

DM: When visionaries such as yourself talk about global citizenship, often the fear of loss of cultural diversity emerges. What are your thoughts on this?

JG: Let’s take a look at Hawaii, a place with extraordinary cultural diversity and symbiosis, all at the expense of the Hawaiians. Hawaii is one of the few places on earth where no national group can claim to be the dominant group numerically or in terms of cultural or economic power. All are minorities. However, the last 20 years have witnessed an upsurge in Hawaiian consciousness, and also increased interest in genuine — as opposed to commercialized — Hawaiian culture. Even if many no longer talk their languages of origin, all groups have preserved cultural competence to a considerable extent, for instance with regard to the rites of naming, marriage and burial. There is harmony in the sense that violence rarely, if at all seems to be rooted in inter-nation sentiments. It would be hard not to find patterns of prejudice and discrimination in such a complex society, but relative to other societies around the world, the cases are few and far between. And the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is devoted to nonviolence.

DM: So, you are not simply talking about tolerance here, but something much deeper than that.

JG: The way that people treat one another on these islands is characterized by respect and curiosity, a good reason why my little multinational family has lived so much of our lives there. Tolerance, which certainly is better than intolerance, is far from good enough. Tolerance means “you may continue to exist, because I am so generous, even magnanimous, given that I could have unleashed a whole battery of prejudice, discrimination and violence upon you.” It is passive coexistence. Hawaii is beyond that pattern with many people broadening their cultural competence. Like for languages, the competence does not have to be active, in speech and writing. Passive competence, understanding spoken and written language is also very useful. Absolutely basic is curiosity and respect, seeing the cultural dialogues as a source of mutual growth. A little competence is much better than no competence at all. However, one point cannot be stressed enough: competence is not the same as knowledge. Competence means that you can enter a dialogue with the other, like when for the first time you ask “What time is it?” in a foreign language, and you get the precise hour. Knowledge is to know that phrase, a good beginning, but not more.

DM: Could you outline for parents and teachers then what must be done to educate for global citizenship?

JG: The best way to learn foreign languages is through conversation; and the best way to learn foreign cultures is to engage in action dialogue. Through conversation, theoretical knowledge becomes practical knowledge being tested out at every turn of the dialogue. The same applies to culture in a general sense. “Learning by doing” is the general rule, as applicable to culture as to anything else.

DM: What is the best way to go about this?

JG: In this process of multiculturation, tolerance is not good enough. Curiosity should be encouraged, and above all respect: how wonderful that you are different from me, let’s learn from each other! This is precisely the message from my Hawaiian experience which I mentioned earlier: don’t just tolerate, enjoy! The point is to leave the old mindset that some cultures are better than others and enter a new mind set of seeing all cultures as repositories of human experience. Human beings are similar, so there is something to learn from all repositories. But the condition is contact, respect, curiosity, knowledge. Above all, be soft, do not push your own idiom too hard, be open to other voices and ways.

DM: What should we be aiming for as concerned educators?

JG: The goal is not one single culture but softer cultures, for world peace. So far the discourse has been very neutral: all cultures are equally good; all cultures have something to offer; all cultures give us food for thought (and thought about food); all cultures can be a source of enrichment, with dialogues for mutual enrichment. This may hold for cultures as a whole. But not all aspects of all cultures are worth learning. Rationalizations of violence, repression, and exploitation are also parts of cultures. Maybe those who dwell in these cultures have become so used to these aspects that they no longer sense them? And, maybe the foreigner with a fresh look may have an important task in asking questions unasked in and by the culture itself? The result being that the believer may be hard pressed for an answer that convinces himself, leave alone the outsider.

DM: Yes, in your recently published book Peace by Peaceful Means, you advocate a new approach to the study of cultures and mention that since culture is relevant to violence and peace, the time has come to evaluate cultures without assuming equality and perhaps even to create a new area of study to do this, the science of human culture, culturology.

JG: Culture is something dynamic that can be shaped by studying and mastering it. The key here is dialogue, the dialogue des civilizations, not as something carried out for mutual information, or once and for all by some key spokespersons, but for everybody on earth to participate in shaping cultures for active coexistence. We need to ask not only what cultures do we have, but what cultures do we want, adequate for environment, for development, and peace — in a multicultural, multilingual global culture.

The Language Teacher – Issue 20.11; November 1996

 Go to Original –


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS, is included. Thank you.


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