Inspired at Johan Galtung’s Peace Research Institute in Oslo in the mid-1960´s, I wrote my thesis for a graduate degree (hovedfag) at the University of Oslo on the development of peace and war concepts among children and youth in West Berlin. Unfortunately, the Minister of Education in GDR - Margot Honecker - refused my application to do the study in East Berlin because - as I was told - “all children in GDR are for peace and against war.” So, no comparison could be made between East and West Berlin. Research on political socialization backgrounded my doctoral thesis at the University of Washington during the Vietnam war - a topic that has stayed with me throughout life.
As assistant to Betty Reardon´s School Program in the World Law Fund/Institute for World Order in New York I had the opportunity to learn about and contribute to peace education’s “Ways and Means” - the title of the newsletter of the School Program. We took part in courses and conferences in many countries in the early 70’s. Our work included the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction (WCCI) World Conference on the theme “Education for Peace: Reflection and Action” at the University of Keele, UK in 1974. From there on, and as Executive Secretary of the Peace Education Commission (PEC) of IPRA, I enjoyed five Summer Schools at Västerhaninge Folk High School in Sweden with participants from countries around the globe as well as liberation movements such as the ANC in South Africa and SWAPO in Namibia. Liberation movements took active part in the work of PEC in the 70’s. For example, Nahas Angula – later minister 1) of higher education, 2) of education, culture, youth and sport, 3) of defense, and 4) the 3rd Prime Minister of Namibia, took active part in our work in the 70’s. PEC´s cooperation with liberation movements had lasting influence on how peace education has become a force for transformation of oppressive contexts. IPRA was one of two winners of the UNESCO prize for peace education in 1982.
The final document of the UNESCO World Conference on Disarmament Education in 1980 called for a “Teacher´s Handbook on Disarmament Education.” I proposed and chaired an expert group contracted between UNESCO and IPRA to produce this item. The UNESCO civil servant and coordinator in this project was from the USSR and he was not happy with our work – a sign that Moscow had been consulted. This was a clear example of an obstacle encountered during the Cold War. Our expert group was not ready to streamline the content of the book in line with any outside influence of superpowers and submitted a manuscript to UNESCO in which the group of experts agreed to include also what we did not agree upon (see what happened in my article entitled “Target: Disarmament Education” in the Journal of Peace Education vol 1 issue 2, 2004).
Another challenge was listening to a professor from the USSR in a Vienna conference presenting a paper on peace education claiming that all the schools in his country did peace education. I met this challenge by writing a paper on how a government use formal education to further its own political ideology - an example of propaganda and indoctrination that had nothing to do with peace education.
It was a good experience to participate in the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in 1999 including the co-founding (with Betty Reardon) of the Global Campaign on Peace Education with the participation of among others Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Professor Johan Galtung. This Campaign has turned out to be an anchor in the field under the careful coordination of Tony Jenkins – even earning nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Another rewarding project was the work I did with Anita Wenden and Ian Harris in the founding of the Journal of Peace Education. Our committee was established at the Peace Education Commission in the 2002 General Conference of IPRA in Turku, Finland and the Journal was launched in 2004. To this day it is a valuable channel of peace education discourse. In Norway, it is ranked at the highest quality level. I agreed to be the first editor but due to lack of support from my university at that time I had to withdraw. Together with my colleague Vidar Vambheim at the newly established Centre for Peace Studies at the University of Tromsø (now the Arctic University of Norway), we therefore proposed a collaborative editorship, but the Centre for Peace Studies also did not find a way to support Vidar and me in the editorial work.
Another rewarding work was with Professor Catherine Odora Hoppers and her development education colleagues at the University of South Africa 2008-18, resulting in doctoral and Master theses and rich discussions with colleagues and elders from indigenous communities.
Work in and with Latin American networks for cultures of peace has taught me so much about people´s stamina and determination in facing extraordinary challenges of violence as evident in the brutal coup against President Allende 50 years ago on September 11, 1973, and the murderous Argentinian dictatorship some years later. It has been significant to meet with and learn about the peace work and powerful contributions by Latin American people – such as Paulo Freire, Alicia Cabezudo and Adolpho Perez Esquivel in arenas such as Mercociudades for Peace, Ciudades Educadoras and Fundazion Servicio Paz y Justicia.
It has also given me great joy to work with students and colleagues at my home base at the universities in Tromsø and Trondheim. With seven Norwegian colleagues we have in 2023 published a book on how our work over the decades has been inspired by the thought collectives we joined in the 1960’s and 70´s – summed up in the title Frigjørende pedagogikk, (Liberating pedagogy). My supervision of Master and doctoral students has been rewarding as well – especially those on the topic of peace education.
My early interest in micro – macro relations have over the years stayed with me embracing learnings from so many contributors I highly value. Let me mention two theoreticians that I feel has developed conceptual tools for understanding these relations better, viz. professors Basil Bernstein and Pierre Bourdieu. Along with their insights I am constantly reminded that micro – macro relations need to be understood in a transdisciplinary light. Such light is colored by an unbounded perspective which seeks to understand the relations among all sectors in a society. Such holistic understanding has been basic in the work of the Nomura Center for lifelong integrated education and Mario Borrelli´s community initiatives in Neapolitan reality. Their work is contrary to the highly fragmentary thinking within isolated ´boxes´ which is characteristic of modern society. In the pluriverse, transdisciplinarity is manifested in life as lived all over the world - oftentimes outside what is modernity. Indigenous knowledge systems - modernity´s ´other´ - requires cognitive and communicative justice in their dialogue with monocultures of modernity. The present hegemony of neoliberalism attempts to become another permanent ´universal´ making such integration difficult. This attempt at ongoing colonization of everyday life in line with the rules of free markets, economic growth and individual profitability at a time when humanity confronts not only new forms of world political disorder, but also climate disaster - is contrary to what is required to achieve sustainability.
After my early academic socialization into positivism, I was relieved when I found the way to Galtung´s newly founded peace research institute in Oslo opening the 'ought to be' visionary perspectives - beyond what is positively given. After meeting Betty Reardon and her colleagues at the Institute for World Order and learning from the Club of Rome´s predictions as well, the future appeared on top of the agenda and has stayed there since.
My motivation was triggered by this attention to visions of futures grounded in values such as equity and participation confronting models of societal development such as Rostow´s stage theory - an example of symbolic violence in the sense that it attempted to universalize a specific type of modern development towards a consumer society marginalizing livelihoods that practiced sustainability – a livelihood I had a taste of when growing up on a small farm in Norway during and after WWII.
How could I not be motivated by the vision of peace? And how could I not be motivated by the vision that a way to peace is education?
We constantly perceive violence near and far. Let me here mention the horrific actions of countries that invade other countries. It has recently been continued with the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. It may be that what keeps us – and me - going is that we encounter violence again and again. And to understand the root causes of any form of violence is an important part of peace education. How can I not keep going when patriotism in warring parties leads to polarization and a binary understanding in which even the recent history behind events is hidden in both mainstream media and formal education? Fortunately, however, some contributions – from professors Mearsheimer and Sachs, for instance, seeks to understand the ongoing war in Europe in light of recent developments after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Violence is carried out by people, organizations, institutions and any other unit in structures comprising micro – macro relations. My motivation for going on in peace education is constantly inspired by the physical, structural and cultural violence I perceive at any level calling for investigations to find the root causes and ways and means to peace.