The Cheek girls sing, "You've got to be Carefully Taught," on the first night of a four-day event at Trinity Presbyterian Church's 50th Anniversary Celebration. This church was a beacon for integrating the city in the 60s.
On April 15th in Denton, Texas, an eclectic group of around 80 folks gathered at Trinity Presbyterian Church to listen to the rudiments of a peace curriculum that will soon be compiled for teachers to download: "You have to be carefully Taught...to be Peacemakers." Prefacing my keynote talk to a smattering of teachers, Denton community members, peace activists, church members and peace studies students was the singing of a familiar song. It was made famous in the musical South Pacific which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950 and opened soon after WWII.
Two young girls (ages 8 and 11) sang the words with a crystal clear beauty. Their poignant rendition introduced my talk about the necessity of teaching peacemaking inside an integrative curriculum that does not compromise high academic standards. The discipline-based compilation of reading, researching, writing, speaking, listening, and relational skills are not sacrificed. Instead they are promoted.
"How and why do we learn fear and prejudice?... Is there a need or place for facing these issues in school systems? ...Let me tell you about a project that arose out of a rigorous curriculum... What's the educational connection between a butterfly peace quilt and visions-of-peace postcards sent to Oprah Winfrey? ...Let me tell you about the involvement of middle schoolers in the developing peace park, the only one of its kind in the U.S., to commemorate the 24 American Nobel Peace Laureates in Eugene, Oregon..."
An hour later people in the audience still seemed interested. Thank goodness, Kim Barnett, was heard to say that she could have listened all night. She "got it!"
South Pacific's theme song of racial intolerance argues that racism is learned from an early age. When the play was originally produced, Rodgers and Hammerstein were pressured to get rid of the song. The fear was that the sensitive content might jeopardize the economic success of the musical, but the creative musicians were adamant that the song remain. Its relevance continues and expands today in the teaching of peace and accepting differences with respect and the necessity of purposeful education.
For many of my 17 years of teaching social studies(history, geography and cultures) to middle schoolers in Oregon, I quoted those potent words and substituted the word "love" for "hate" at the beginning of each year's curriculum introduction.
There are those who observe our nation's bitter divisions between political ideologies and feel discouraged. Both liberal and conservative views lack elements of respectful dialogue and debate. Categories are hardened. Sound-bite experts challenge one another's opinions on almost everything. Thusly, I believe that a variety of curricular approaches for peace education in our schools is paramount and timely. The children can direct us back to embracing differences with respect, kindly dialogue and debate based on more than personal point of view, and perhaps, compromise for the greater democratic good. The kernels of truth in children's visions of peace encourage us to remember our own dreams and visions before life intervened. They inspire us to action and thoughtful peacemaking that will make a difference in the world.
"You've got to be taught to
hate and fear.
You've got to be taught from year to year.
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear.
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shad,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
You've got to be carefully taught!"
Lyrics from South Pacific's "You've got to be carefully taught"
Love or hate? Big choice. Huge consequences when we change the lyrics.