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The history of my evolution as a peace educator goes back pretty far in my life. My actual professional experience began with my last year of teaching at Rye Country Day School where I began to look into some of the issues of war and peace that started to become intellectually challenging to me and seemingly politically relevant.  During that process, I met the director of what was that then called The World Law Fund, Harry Hollins. He invited me to come and develop a schools program that would essentially put forth the fundamental ideas of world federalism that boils down to having law replace force in the international system for dealing with conflict and all other kinds of challenges to the system.

They were basing their ideas and work at that time on adult education groups through the World Federalists who were studying something called the Clark-Sohn Plan, which was a very detailed plan to revise the United Nations Charter, to give it a standing peacekeeping force and compulsory jurisdiction for the resolution of conflict in the International Court of Justice, and put forth a 10-year plan for staged disarmament down to the fundamental needs for self-defense. All of which, were in fact, rather questionable, but nonetheless they were a way of thinking. And the way of thinking that they kept talking about was system change.

So that was my introduction to systems thinking, and to understand you can't change one part without taking into account all the other parts. And you have to think that way about an individual conflict as well as how the system or the institutions are going to respond.

We also began to think that other people might have different ideas about this, and they started the World Order Models Project, inviting scholars around the world to do this same kind of thing, of putting forward plans that would maintain peace in some institutional way.

So, my job was to develop high school curricula that would enable teachers to bring these issues into the classes. And so, this first actual material, an example of that was the book was the booklet Peacekeeping (and we had a series that was published by Random House: Perspectives in World Order, 1973) and started to look at other major issues besides conflict, and the underlying causes of conflicts, such as human rights violations, economic injustice, maldevelopment, and so forth.

My work continued along those lines until I came to the not-so-sudden but stunning realization that this was all masculine thinking.  The thinkers were brilliant. They did a great deal to break through new ideas, but nonetheless, it was in the dominant mode of masculine thinking. And so, my own personal experience working in the Fund and with these men was one in which I was very well aware of gender injustice, and became articulate, and vocal about it. And then not only vocal, I began to think conceptually about it.

And so this, as you would know from the Springer series (see “Betty A. Reardon: A Pioneer in Education for Peace and Human Right” and “Betty A. Reardon: Key Texts in Gender and Peace”), the sixties and seventies - the sixties primarily, and then into the seventies, was a lot of this systems work, the internationalization of our work so that we could cross-pollinate each other. And then from the early to mid-seventies, a lot [of my work was] in the realm of gender, and understanding that all of the systems, even the ones that were well constructed for war prevention, were essentially patriarchal in their conceptualization.  And so there were actual flaws that had to be attended to.

And, this in turn, I'm bringing you up to today, I have gone from that into the need to move beyond both a gender perspective on systems, to an organic way of thinking, an Earth-centered way of thinking that comprehends all of these kinds of problems. I hope that others will begin to consider the possibility of Earth-centered, organic thinking, that is, learn to think as living systems operate and to look to the operational living systems for models of sustainable, viable ways of living on the Earth so long as we have it.


Some of the things that I feel are significant are things that were done in both international and transnational contexts.  We try to make that distinction always between the transnational actors, the non-governmental actors, the people on the ground, activists, and the interstate or state-based organizations which are the international organizations. So, I've done quite a bit of work with the United Nations. Of course you would assume that I worked with the division that dealt with women's issues, I worked in capacities as a consultant, not just as an activist, but my activist work came to the attention of these agencies in the UN. I worked with what is now UN Women, and the Department of Disarmament Affairs, and most extensively with UNESCO. I did a number of contracts with UNESCO, writing for them policy statements, etc. But the one thing that I really believe was conceptually most significant was The Final Statement of the World Congress on Disarmament Education, which I think was 1980. I know that Stephen (Steve) Marks and I kind of thought it up. He came to the prepcom For SSD 2, the UN Special Session on Disarmament 1982, which also is famous as the occasion for the first International Institute on Peace Education.

The issue here is, Steve and I were both at that prepcom, and we had known each other for quite some time, because he had heard a presentation I gave an IPRA (International Peace Research Association) on International Women's Year, and then recommended me for something at UNESCO. So he and I were good colleagues, and were listening to all these proposals from agencies and states about what should happen, both within the context of the agenda for the interstate meeting, and what should happen as the side events, the other things that are going on. So, we decided that good preparation would be to hold a world meeting on disarmament education. And at that point nobody knew what disarmament education was. Steve and I had very vague ideas, but we knew it had to be important. So, he did the inner work within UNESCO and I chatted with other people, and lo and behold, UNESCO calls this World Congress on Disarmament Education.

So we had the Congress, and the Congress itself was really very interesting because nobody had any real idea what disarmament education was.  All of these delegations came, and some of them even had final drafts with them when they arrived. Steve and I were working in the background, and we got our friend Jaime (Mr. Jaime Diaz, Colombia) to be President, and poor Jaime was chagrined from the beginning to the end, but he did a fairly decent job, and so everybody who could made some statement. And we had a group that was from IPRA, from the Peace Education Commission. At every break, and at night, we would go out and plan about what we would try to get into the record, so we would get as much as possible. And Jaime was very clever about calling on these people (fortunately they were from all over the world) and so we had bits and pieces of things that were decent, but there was no final document out of the Congress because nothing really came together. So, we very cleverly made this statement about the interesting dialogue, and the conclusions would be put together by a recording committee, or some secretarial committee, and then published.

So the secretary was me and Steve at his kitchen table. And what we did was, we put all these individual statements - I was taking notes, and he was taking notes, and Jaime had some notes - and so Steve and I put them all out like playing cards. “Oh, this is a good idea here, we can use this this way. This is a good idea here. This is a good idea.” So we were able to take some of the discussion and then formulate it into the final document.

And the statement that was most important there (and that came out of the fact that most people were speaking like disarmament education was to kind of brainwash people into thinking disarmament was the thing to do, and the only thing to do - and you know, without reflection) was that disarmament education is not what to think about disarmament, but how to think about disarmament – that it was a mode of inquiry and so forth. So that, I think, was a very important piece of work, that is kind of anonymous, but I'm still rather proud of it, and I remind Steve of it every once in a while, and we have a good left together over that one.

The other thing is, we started in 1963/1964 at the World Law Fund, to bring educators together to try to collaborate in various ways. Also at that time, the Foreign Policy Association was doing a lot of the teacher education in foreign policy (not in peace), and they had a workshop format, and I worked with them, and we did workshops on world order studies and teaching and about systems.

And so that idea of bringing educators together, to share and to learn from each other, emerged into the International Institute on Peace Education. It was preceded by things such as the 2 or 3 wonderful meetings we had in Quebec, Canada, at Stansted College, and they were the kind of the forerunners of the International Institute on Peace Education. And so I had funding that was provided by the Presbyterians because I was a consultant to the United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE), and so that enabled us to actually start recruiting for the Institute. In those stages, we thought more in terms of specific resource people and a number of the resource people that we would want were being sent by their governments - their ways were paid by government grants to NGOs to have them come as the non-governmental actors in and around SSD II. So we had the Institute right after the adjournment of SSD II and we had the stars of PEC (IPRA Peace Education Commission), of the first years of PEC, that were Robert Aspeslagh and Birgit Brocke Utne, and Magnus Haavelsrud, etc... And so that began what I think has been the most important work that I helped to start, which was the networking and collaborative relationship among peace educators from around the world. And I think that has been one of the most significant things in the field.

I enjoy it. I mean, what else? What else would I do? Life would be very boring if I weren't doing this. I mean, always great people I get to work with. They’re very smart. They're very committed.  They're very funny. And my goodness, Saul Mendlovitz once said “in the peace movement there's such a nice class of people.”

There is a sense of joy about it. Because even when things are, you know it hasn't been a bed of roses, by any means. You know it's been a struggle, and I haven't talked about any of the struggle. Every institution I have ever worked with I have had to struggle, not to struggle against it, but to struggle within it, and try to do it in some sort of transformative way if I could, even when I wanted to start screaming and yelling and knocking down the walls. But mainly, you know, even that is exhilarating because it gets the energy level up.

So this sense of belonging to a committed community is, I think, is very important, and that has kept me going.  And also, I keep thinking of new stuff that needs to be considered. Why stop when there's still new stuff - and there's still new stuff right now? There are a lot of issues, and a lot of possibilities that peace educators could turn up and start to examine, work with and develop.

So yeah, it's because I enjoy it. It feeds me, and I have no idea what else I would do.

To be specifically a school teacher that was doing peace education, I did that, and I did history and social studies, and I enjoyed that. And I enjoyed the act of teaching, the relationship, but it didn't have the wider social implications, even as you saw individuals who are blossoming into potential actors, you know, it's more wondering, and the wider field.

You know I had a summer job with my uncle, at which I was terrible, and would have been fired if he weren't my uncle.  I'm totally unequipped to do anything else!

Interview with Betty Reardon for HOPE: Humans of Peace Education, conducted July 21, 2023.