Maria Hantzopoulos, Professor of Education

Affiliated Organizations

Professor, Vassar College, Coordinator of Secondary Education

Series Editor, Peace and Human Rights Education Book Series, Bloomsbury

Curriculum Designer and Developer for various schools, organizations, etc..

Please tell us about your work in peace education. What are the issues and contexts in which you have worked? What have been some of the challenges you've encountered and how have you overcome them?

At present, I mostly teach peace education in higher education (undergraduate students and pre-service teachers) in the US, though I often conduct trainings for practitioners and educators in various local and global settings beyond where I teach, so it varies. I think the main challenges I see among my work with students and educators (pre-service and seasoned) are getting them to unpack their assumptions about the work and the world, and deeply interrogate the ways in which identity, representation, and context influence the ways in which peace, justice and human rights are conceptualized.  This includes thinking through who defines peace, justice, and human rights in particular contexts, interrogating power assymentries and differentials, and contemplating deeply the implications of these taken for-granted definitions on education and on human lives.  While this can be challenging and messy, it is necessary work to think through new and plural ways of being, and imagining more inclusive cultures of peace and justice.

What has been your most meaningful or noteworthy moment in your peace education career?

There have been so many noteworthy moments, but one that stands out is from many years ago, when I was with a group of my high school students (from NYC in the US) and we were able to travel to Cuba.  We visited schools, community organizations, health initiatives. Etc.. On one of the days, we learning about and visiting the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, which provides free medical school education for students from across Latin America, who then agree to go back to their countries and serve their communities.  It was born out of the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch and Georges in 1998 when Cuba sent many doctors to countries affected by these hurricanes.  The initiative wanted to address the gap in local doctors and thus launched the program to build more local capacity.  It happened to be the first year that the program started to admit some students from the US too - specifically students of color from systemically marginalized and neglected communities - with the caveat that they would serve under-resourced urban and rural areas in the US upon completion of medical school.  My students, many of whom were from these very communities in the US and in Latin America were deeply moved and struck by the fact that something like this even existed.  Most of these students had been socialized by living in a white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal settler colonial state, and if even if they disagreed, struggled to imagine alternatives.  They all realized that another world IS possible - not just in theory but in practice.  Sometimes simply exposing people to other ways of being, engaging, and existing in the world can be transformative.  This is just one small example.

How and why did you start working in peace education? What is your motivation for this work?

Peace education to me is not separate from education – it is an essential and necessary part of it. My road into education in general was mostly shaped by my own experiences as a first generation child of working-class immigrants that didn’t even finish high school.  I also began my career at a youth leadership development organization that used popular education methods to develop the leadership skills among its youth as a way empowering them to serve their communities.  While we worked in cooperation with many high schools (as after school programs), I soon realized that some of the most engaged youth leaders were utterly disengaged at school.   They could organize and run city-wide youth conferences on social issues facing their communities, but when it came to report card time, they would make sure it remained hidden.  This paradox struck a chord; how could these engaging, inspiring and brilliant young people be failing or struggling in school?  I knew that there had to be a way for public schools to engage their youth in a way that we were.   I knew there were schools committed to this approach and my goal was to connect with like-minded institutions and individuals that embodied this vision. I ended up teaching at an amazing place committed to peace, justice, and societal transformation.  While I was impressed with what I saw there instructionally and saw that they believed in progressive principles, it was the enthusiasm that the students had for attending the school that intrigued me most and compelled me to accept a position there, now over 25 years ago.  If I fast-forward to years later, when I started to collect data about the school after I had left, it was that same enthusiasm expressed by students that catalyzed my work. I began to wonder about the concept of dignity, transformative agency and critical consciousness and the role these played in the schooling experiences of youth, particularly in comparison and in relationship to the ways that students also expressed being deprived of such things in other schooling and academic spaces.  Much of this work has been theorized in relationship to peace, social justice, and human rights education, locally, and globally, and my own work continues to be shaped about education might dismantle all forms of violence – including cultural and structural.

 

What keeps you going? How do you sustain yourself in this work?

In a world that can often feel soul-crushing and overwhelming, the countless small and local pockets of hope and resistance provide sustenance.   I find this in the work with of my own community - including the activism of my colleagues and friends, the love and support from my family near and far, and the inspiration from larger global actors and change agents who inspire and give so much hope.