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Disarmament Education

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Disarmament Education: Lesson Objectives

After this section, participants should be able to meet the following objectives: 

  • Define disarmament and disarmament education
  • Understand the relevance of disarmament education with the field of peace education
  • Discuss ways in which disarmament education can be implemented in the classroom


Guiding Questions

As you read this section, consider the following questions: 

  • What would a world without armaments look like?  Would human security be possible in a disarmed world?
  • What are the opportunity costs of military spending? If your country wasn't spending money on the military, what could it be using that money for?
  • What are the connections between disarmament and human rights? the environment? social justice?  





Disarmament education is based on the idea that achieving disarmament is the primary institutional requirement to develop a culture of peace and establish the foundations for comprehensive human security (Reardon, 2002). The ultimate goal of disarmament education is "nothing less than general and complete disarmament" (Reardon, 2002, p. 21). Disarmament education is education for negative peace when educating about disarmament specifically, (see Negative and Positive Peace), and is educating for positive peace through the development of attitudes and critical thinking skills that lay the foundation for promoting peace. Disarmament education can also be seen as education for dismantling the culture of war (see Culture of Peace). 


According to the Report and Final Document of the World Congress on Disarmament Education:


"For the purposes of disarmament education, disarmament may be understood as any form of action aimed at limiting, controlling or reducing arms, including unilateral disarmament under effective international control. It may also be understood as a process aimed at transforming the current system of armed nation states into a new world order of planned unarmed peace in which war is no longer an instrument of national policy and peoples determine their own future and live in security based on justice and solidarity" (UNESCO, Paris, 1980, Section A, para. 2). 


The field of disarmament education arose in the 1950s and 60s, in the aftermath of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. At this time, disarmament education was primarily concerned with nuclear disarmament. According to Murakami (1993), peace education in Japan is still largely concerned with anti-nuclear education. As nuclear weapons are still a pressing global issue, nuclear disarmament is still a critical issue in disarmament education.


Other weapons should not be forgotten, however. Weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons, tend to receive the most international attention. Meanwhile, small and light weapons account for the vast majority of violence and illegal weapons trade in the world (Shah, 2007). Therefore disarmament education must go beyond education about weapons of mass destruction, and include weapons of all sizes. 


Education for and about disarmament

Like all peace education, disarmament education can be education for or about disarmament. Education for disarmament involves developing the competencies necessary for education about disarmament. These competencies involve cultivating interest, critical thinking from acquired knowledge and informed decision-making. Furthermore, there are two key perceptual elements in disarmament education. First, students must perceive that disarmament is not only possible, but probable. This can be linked to Futures Education as students try to imagine what a disarmed world would look like. Second, students must be able to see that the human security of others -with whom they share the world - is valuable (Reardon, 2002). According to Reardon, "this predisposition is best developed at the elementary level in which the foundations of social values are laid" (2002, p. 24). This can be linked to Global Citizenship EducationMulticultural Education, and Human Rights Education, among others. 


Education about disarmament encompasses values, attitudes, issues and problems of disarmament as well as actions required to build a world without arms. Education about disarmament includes topics such as armed conflicts, rising weapons-related expenditures, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms, and other threats that continue to challenge the foundations of international peace and security (United Nations, 2010). For example, a lesson on knowledge about disarmament might be about how military spending is linked to human rights violations when some citizens' basic human rights go unmet while military spending increases. Students could compare military spending figures on health, education, food, etc. The lesson could involve soliciting possible actions that students could take in regards to this problem (for example, sending a letter to their government representative advocating for decreased military spending and increased spending on education).


Disarmament education: Context and Controversy

As disarmament is linked to so many other topics and themes, this can make it easier to integrate in the classroom. Disarmament education can and should be placed in the broader field of peace education, and linked directly to other branches in the field, such as human rights, development, and environmental education. Disarmament education should include (or be part of a curriculum that includes) nonviolent conflict resolution and conflict transformation education, so that learners are prepared to address conflicts, which will inevitably arise, without the use of arms. 


Disarmament education can be controversial, and thus challenging to integrate into the classroom. As most nations have militaries, reducing military spending - let alone completely abolishing the military - can be a taboo topic. If you are a teacher in the public school system, even in a country where disarmament education might be frowned upon by the national government, you can still find ways to educate for disarmament, such as by teaching the value of human security for everyone, teaching critical thinking skills, etc. You can look for "gaps" or "holes" where you can insert disarmament themes or questions. Even if disarmament is strictly against your government's national policy, you can still creatively find ways to implement disarmament education.


Disarmament education is an important area of peace education that is sometimes overlooked. While peace is more than just the absence of war, the absence of war is an absolutely necessary component of creating a culture of peace. Weapons are one of the greatest threats to peace in today's world, and weapons proliferation is a major source of structural violence when public funds are spent on weapons in lieu of food, health care, education, and nonviolent means of security. Disarmament education is a key component of any peace education program.


Sample Lesson

Disarmament Dictionary (Reardon & Cabezudo, 2002)


“Small arms, light weapons and landmines pose a big threat to human security; their use results in the majority of civilian deaths and has made it easier to exploit young children as soldiers.”

—The Hague Agenda, Recommendation 45, p. 44



This unit fulfills a number of standard learning purposes. First is the development of language skills through the use of dictionaries and thesauruses to enhance children’s vocabulary and creative use of language in expressing their own ideas. By examining the relationship between the micro (local) and macro (global) effects of small arms and light weapons, reasoning and relational skills will be enhanced. Creativity and expressive skills can be demonstrated through the use of artistic (drawing) and linguistic (speaking and writing) expression.


This learning unit is intended to develop an awareness of the threat that small arms and weapons pose to children locally and globally. These activities allow students the opportunity to actively identify and describe their concerns about the effects that guns and small arms have on children’s lives in all regions of the world. This lesson is also intended to develop students’ sense of civic and social responsibility by allowing them to take action in building public awareness about issues that concern and affect children. It is our intention that by using the Disarmament Dictionary as a learning tool to teach other students about disarmament and human security, these goals will be reached.

NOTE: This unit might be paired with Unit 10 on Child Soldiers.


SOURCE: Norma T. Nemeh (2001) Teachers College, Columbia University. This unit was prepared for use in a teacher training workshop at Teachers College, Columbia University.


GRADE LEVEL AND SUBJECTS: Elementary grades 3 – 5, and adaptable to other grades; language arts,social/global studies


MATERIALS: Dictionaries, thesaurus; construction paper, pencils, markers; magazine pictures illustrating youth and violence, small arms; possible readings for teacher’s background and illustrations to use in the unit include:

✦ Turbulent Times, Prophetic Dreams: Art from Israeli & Palestinian Children. Harold Koplewicz, Gail Furman, and Robin Goodman. Devora Publishing; Printed in Israel, 2000.

✦ One Day We Had To Run: Refugee Children Tell Their Stories in Words and Paintings. Sybella Wilkes. Millbrook Trade, 1995; ISBN: 156294844X.

✦ The New York Times Magazine, June 10th 2001, “The Age of Anxiety,” p. 36.


METHODS: Reading of children’s books; viewing and making drawings; consulting dictionaries; preparing a dictionary; cooperative learning; communal sharing of learnings



1. Children will be encouraged to specify and reflect on the negative effects that guns, small arms, and weapons have on children. Reflection will be based on an examination of a series of children’s drawings and art work from various world regions.

2. Students will analyze the effect that guns, small weapons and land mines have had on children’s lives in various regions of the world and their own community by reading the recommended texts, viewing the drawings of children who are experiencing armed conflict directly.

3. Students will identify and describe the harmful effects that guns, small weapons, and land mines have on children’s safety and security by listing adjectives and/or adverbs that describe the effects of guns and small weapons on societies and children’s lives in particular.



NOTE: This learning unit would best be conducted over a period of two weeks of language arts classes.


1. Teacher presents One Day We Had to Run, or similar picture books with children’s illustrations and stories. Read one story for each session. After each reading, pose the following questions or similar ones.

a) What was the story about? Who were the people in the story? Were there any children of your age, or the ages or your sisters, brothers, or friends?

b) What did you see in the pictures? Did you notice guns or other weapons in the pictures? How did the guns make you feel?

c) Why do people have guns? What do guns do to people? d) How do you think the children who drew these pictures felt about guns?

What happened to them because of the guns?

e) Could the people using the guns have found other ways to do what they were trying to do? What other ways can you imagine?


2. Begin a discussion on the effects that guns, small weapons, and land mines have had on the children who illustrated the books and ask students to share their own ideas, experiences, and knowledge about guns, weapons, and war. Ask students how they learned what they know about such things.


3. Ask students to give identifying or descriptive words (adjectives and adverbs) to describe the mood and feeling found in the children’s illustrations and their own feelings about the illustrations. If students are not familiar with adjectives and adverbs prior to conducting the lesson, explain the concept and technique of description, noting that they have been using adjectives and adverbs to describe what they saw and to express feelings.


4. Record children’s responses on the board or newsprint, making a list of adjectives and adverbs to be used later in composing the Disarmament Dictionary.


5. Introduce and define the term “disarmament” to the children and elicit their reactions and responses as to how disarmament could contribute to children’s safety and security. Ask them to think about what makes them feel safe and secure. Explain to the children that many people all over the world are working for disarmament as a way to create peace. Tell them about the United Nations Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World (United Nations Document A/Res/53/25), ten years of activity to try to assure that they and all children can be secure and live in peace. (To find out more about the United Nations Decade for a Culture of Peace, visit: http://www3.unesco.org/iycp/uk/uk_sum_decade.htm or http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/53/a53r025.pdf)


6. Introduce the activity of creating the Disarmament Dictionary to explain to other students why they think that the issue is an important one that other children need to learn about, too.


7. Announce that students, in groups, will be assigned a letter or group of letters from the alphabet and be asked to identify an adjective or adverb beginning with that letter. They will then be asked to construct a sentence using the adverb or adjective to describe their thoughts, feelings, or experiences related to small arms (such as handguns) and/or related to how they threaten the security of children.

Students will use dictionaries and a thesaurus to locate and identify adjectives or adverbs from each letter of the alphabet that reflect or define the disarmament concept they would like to include in the Disarmament Dictionary.

Students will list the words alphabetically, compose sentences using the words and articulating their ideas about guns, and illustrate one page in the Disarmament Dictionary to correspond to the letter(s) they were assigned.


8. Organize students into cooperative learning groups and assign several letters of the alphabet to each group. Each group will compose a section of the Disarmament Dictionary:

✦ Assuring that there are sentences and illustrations for every letter; 

✦ Putting the letters, sentences and illustrations in alphabetical order; and 

✦Making a cover and a binder for their part of the dictionary.


9. If possible, make photocopies of the Disarmament Dictionary so each child may have one to keep, read again, and share with families and others.


10. Upon completion of the Disarmament Dictionary, students can plan activities to introduce their work to other students in the school. Some ideas include:

✦ A hall display of all the pages;

✦ A special assembly in which students present their drawings and sentences as skits;

✦ Visits to other classes to explain the problem of guns and ideas about disarmament by presenting their Disarmament Dictionary.


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection 

  • Why is disarmament education an important component of peace education?
  • What are the challenges to implementing disarmament education in your context? How can you address these challenges?
  • What are some ways you can imagine integrating disarmament education in your context?
  • Do an investigation into military spending in your country, and compare it with education, health care, or other types of government spending. If your country does not have a military, perhaps examine another country, or look at global figures.  



Murakami, T. (1993). "Peace Education in Britain and Japan: A Comparison." In A. Bjerstedt (Ed.) Peace Education: Global Perspectives. Stockholm: Almqvist &

     Wiksell International. p. 79-90


Reardon, B. (in consultation with A. Cabezudo). (2002). Tasks and directions for the Global Campaign for Peace Education. Disarmament Forum, pp. 19-26.


Reardon, B. & Cabezudo, A. (2002). Learning to Abolish War: Teaching Towards a Culture of Peace. Book 2: Sample Learning Units. New York: Hague Appeal for



Shah, Anup (2007). The arms trade is big business. GlobalIssues.org. Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/article/74/the-arms-trade-is-big-business

United Nations. (2010). Disarmament Education: Resources for Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/disarmament/education/index.html



Additional Resources

The Hague Appeal for Peace - excellent lesson plans on disarmament and other peace education issues, available free online: http://www.haguepeace.org/index.php?action=resources  


Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Peace Education Resources online: http://www.cnduk.org/index.php/information/peace-education/peace-education.html


UN Home Page for Disarmament Education: http://www.un.org/disarmament/education/index.html


Addicted to War - a comic book about US militarism and the military-industrial complex; an ideal classroom resource for disarmament education: http://www.addictedtowar.com/book.html

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