Key Thinkers Introduction

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3. Key Peace Education Thinkers

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the participants will:


  • Understand the contributions of John Dewey, Maria Montesorri, and Paulo Freire to the field of peace education
  • Describe the key pedagogical principles that each thinker offers to the field

Guiding Questions

While reading this section, consider the following questions:

  • John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Paulo Freire did not necessarily call themselves "peace educators." What qualities make a peace educator? What are the qualities that characterize peace educators?
  • How could you apply the theories developed by these thinkers in your own classroom? Are you applying them already? If so, how?
  • What are the similarities and differences between Dewey, Montessori and Freire?



Philosophies of peace education began as early as the world’s major religions. Spiritual visionaries such as Buddha, Jesus, Baha’u’llah, Muhammad, and Lao Tse were also pioneers of peace education through the teaching of their doctrines of love and compassion. Later, important philosophical thinkers such as Immanuel Kant continued to develop a wider and deeper field of treatises on peace. However, peace education as a specific discipline did not gain momentum until the 20th century (Harris, 2002). Peace education in its modern form is a relatively new field which continues to grow and expand to this day, thanks to the contributions of a number of key thinkers throughout history.


John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Paulo Freire are considered to be three major thinkers in the field of peace education. Though each a great intellectual in their own right, their work has in common a number of important ideas that have shaped the development of peace education. These commonalities include the concept of teachers as learners in a two-way partnership with their students, and an emphasis on the faculties of creativity, imagination, and critical thinking so that students can apply skills learned in the classroom to solve real-life problems. Dewey, Montessori, and Freire each believed in the power of education to empower students to fulfill their potentials and create peace.


In addition to these three major thinkers, there are many more scholars who have contributed significantly to the development of peace education. Johan Galtung is a Norwegian academic known for his contributions to peace education research and his framework of negative and positive peace*, and overall contributions to the peace studies and peace research fields (Galtung, 1983). Elise Boulding was an influential thinker who emphasized peace education as a combination of thinking globally and acting locally (Morrison, 2008). Birgit Brock-Utne has also greatly impacted peace education by bringing a feminist perspective to the field. Other notable peace education thinkers include Ian Harris, Herbert Read, Betty Reardon, and Jane Addams.


The work of many of these key peace education theorists informs the content of this course, but we will focus on the main three thinkers below. The reason for the emphasis on these three is that their work, more than that of any other thinkers, is the most relevant to the philosophical underpinnings of peace education, and is important to understand in applying to classroom practice. 


Galtung, J. (1983). Peace Education: Learning to Hate War, Love Peace, and to Do Something About It. International Review of Education, 29(3). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3444003


Harris, I.M. (April 2002). Peace Education Theory. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov:80/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000       019b/80/1b/3d/0b.pdf


Morrison, M.L. (22 February 2008). Elise Boulding and Peace Education. Retrieved from http://www.tc.edu/centers/epe/htm%20articles/MorrisonElise%20Boulding_22fe              b08.doc


* Positive peace is the presence of social justice and equality, and the absence of structural or indirect violence. Negative peace is defined as the absence of violence. In order to create negative peace, we must look for ways to reduce and eliminate violence.



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