Event Review: 2015 Arnhold Symposium on Education for Sustainable Peace
• Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI)
• The New School for Social Research (NSSR)
• German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI)
On October 29, 2015, the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research together with The New School for Social Research and the German Center for Research and Innovation hosted this year’s Arnhold Symposium. This panel discussion was one of three in the Georg Arnhold program, which aims to promote research on education for sustainable peace. Each year, a number of visiting professors are selected to conduct a research project in their field during a three- to six-month stay in Braunschweig, Germany. Their research activities are to focus on educational media and curricula at the secondary school level in post-conflict or transitional societies. “Education and Armed Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa” was the subject of this year’s program for which the GCRI was delighted to host Mario Novelli, this year’s visiting research professor. He opened the Symposium with a keynote at the German Center for Research and Innovation in New York.
To start the evening, Henry H. Arnhold, the grandson of the program’s visionary father Georg Arnhold, introduced the concept and historical background of this forum. Henry H. Arnhold’s German ancestor was an entrepreneur, a social patron, and a committed pacifist. Unfortunately, the Arnhold family suffered from serial harassment under the Nazi regime. To honor the legacy of his grandfather and to build bridges between Germany and the U.S. in the future, Henry H. Arnhold established the Georg Arnhold Program in 2013.
Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig, current director of the German Historical Institute and former director of the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI), then presented the work of the GEI, a member of the Leibniz Association. The GEI conducts research on textbooks and educational media to develop a better understanding of the past, the present, and the future to ensure that education in the future is provided in a climate of freedom and democracy.
Prof. Mario Novelli from the University of Sussex in the U.K. focused his presentation on the relationship between globalization, education, and international development, placing a special emphasis on conflict zones. With professional roots as a language teacher and trade union worker in Latin America and witness to extreme violence during his time there, Prof. Novelli identified an increasing need for effective popular education to cope with emerging conflicts worldwide.
Other topics covered in his talk ranged from research on grassroots social movements to the examination of a broader picture that includes global actors and policies. He also addressed how education became an integral part of post-9/11 military strategies. In addition, Prof. Novelli drew upon his experience while at the University of Amsterdam, during which time he had the opportunity to work on peacebuilding initiatives in various countries, including Lebanon, Nepal, and Sierra Leone as well as for organizations like UNICEF.
Prof. Novelli’s main takeaway was that education is largely marginalized during peacebuilding efforts in favor of the following priorities: deradicalization, security measures, creation of economic markets, and free democratic elections. Only 10 to 15 percent of peacekeeping funds are spent on health and education initiatives. Peacebuilders often think in five-year time spans and want quick results, but education generally takes a longer time to improve. For this reason, peacebuilding processes often do not address the root causes, such as inequality. Some policies may even increase inequality, for example, by promoting privatization. His distinction between negative and positive peace illustrates this idea. Negative peace or security peace eliminates conflict drivers and creates an absence of violence, but it won’t eliminate a conflict’s roots. Positive or sustainable peace is achieved through social transformation by redressing and transforming critical situations, thus eliminating the causes of conflicts. According to Prof. Novelli, the prevailing method is probably the least effective. At the end of the day, education can do so much more with regards to its nation-building and transformative abilities.
The British scholar then presented a framework for further research on the role of education in peacebuilding efforts. His approach emphasizes sustainable social development and addresses the roots of a conflict. According to Prof. Novelli, research should be more inclusive and participative; educational programs and thus the creation of textbooks, for instance, should address different types of inequalities and foster social justice. Prof. Novelli presented a model for his theoretical framework, which is based on the avoidance of three drivers of a conflict. This model focuses on redistribution, recognition, and representation. In a fourth step, the program would address the legacy of a conflict in order to achieve reconciliation. Prof. Novelli acknowledged the presence of obstacles when shaping the new role of education in peacebuilding processes as education would be fundamentally political and whoever wins a conflict defines the education system afterwards. He concluded his talk by stating that education can be part of the solution to 21st century problems, but it can also be part of the problem. The challenge to society is how to make education part of the solution and to overcome such obstacles that stand in its way.
During the Q&A, audience members questioned how attainable social transformation through education can really be, as deradicalization and peacebuilding efforts may not always be as peaceful or quick as ideally imagined. Prof. Novelli advised policymakers and peacebuilders to do more than just treating radicalization as a “sickness” and to question the underlying causes, often provoked by Northern countries’ behavior in the “Global South.” He thus called for greater reflection regarding our own actions. Although development initiatives are typically presented as depoliticized efforts, education according to Prof. Novelli will always be politicized and we shouldn’t hide our positions. Rather, we should ensure that our education systems are just and in the interest of both the rich and poor. Education can address inequality and textbooks can help bring people together. Prof. Novelli stressed that change has to come from below and it will be important to create spaces for grassroots movements to develop in the future.
After his talk and a Q&A session with the audience, participants were invited to continue the discussion during a reception in the German House restaurant. During the second day of the Symposium, participants took part in workshops at The New School in New York City.