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Kids don't start wars. But what can kids really do for peace?

How to make a crane

In view of their tendencies toward passivity, authoritarianism, and lack of authentic dialogue between children and teachers, their structural forms of contrived time and space, and their artificial separation of knowledge into distinct subjects, is it possible for schools to contribute authentically to a peace education? Ideally peace education’s content should develop from the students’ own interests, ideals, and hopes. But this peace education ideal seems hard to implement in schools. There seems to be a built-in idea that if you are to teach somebody something, the content must be determined in advance. This kind of prescribed instruction is so deeply ingrained in everyone who works in schools that they are unused to conducting a dialogue that attempts to include the pupils’ own subjective reactions towards the world. Walter Enlow, describes how some pupils and teachers ovecame some of these limitations.

I want to share with you an experiment we began in 1985 at the International School in Hiroshima, Japan, which speaks directly to fostering an educational environment in which students actively engage the world and help determine educational content based upon their ideals, hopes, and interests. Moreover, I want to share with you the creative extensions and subsequent development of a variety of peace education projects in which children learn through dialogical experiences in peace education and not vicariously about peace. These are the stories of children having wonderful ideas and of teachers who helped them enact them through lived experiences.

    From 1980 to 1988 I was the principal and a teacher at Hiroshima International School. This K-8 school serves foreign residents in Hiroshima, most of whom are educators, missionaries and business people. Some work for the Radiation Effects Research Foundation. Less than 100 children from some 10 countries attend the school each year. The school also serves some 600 part-time Japanese students through a variety of culture and language classes. Teachers have been drawn from the British Commonwealth, Europe, Japan and the United States. Our educational goals were four: to help each of our students return home at or above grade level; to foster care, creativity and collaboration; to appreciate and understand local and global culture and the commonalities and diversity of humankind; and to utilise an active pedagogy not as preparation for adulthood, but as lived experience itself. We designed the context: time, space, activities, expectations and standards of conduct, and ‘curriculum’ in the ways we believed most suitable to sustain our goals.

    August 6, 1985 was the fortieth commemoration of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and there was unprecedented world-wide attention focused on Hiroshima and its residents. A major U.S. television company wanted to interview American children living in Hiroshima. They were asked, ‘Do you have nuclear nightmares?’ ‘Do you feel guilty being an American living in Hiroshima?’ ‘Do Hiroshima hibakusha (bomb victims) despise you?’ These questions, which most adults would find it difficult to respond to, became the basis for foreign children living in Hiroshima to start a world-wide peace movement. They had no easy or politically correct answers. But their attempts to resolve conflicting perspectives did raise a question articulated by Kim Blackford, then age twelve, ‘Kids don’t start wars. But what can kids really do for peace?’

    The personal anguish we felt was over our inability to help constructively, to reach out for Hiroshima and the bomb victims. But help whom? Affectively, at least, we are all A-bomb victims. And what we uncover from the past of which we were not part is a reconstruction that somehow is embedded in the present of our meaning-making. The message of Hiroshima, gnawing at our consciences is not simply in the past; it is the past in the present as our future.

a sacred bird
The white crane is the sacred bird of Japan. Legend tells that it lives for a thousand years and that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes will also live a long life. Most Japanese children also know the life story of Sadako Sasaki and the Paper Crane Club, which helped to make the paper crane a vibrant symbol of the hope for peace.

    Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. She was not burned, but radiation poisoning caused her to contract leukemia at the age of twelve. Hospitalised, she began folding paper cranes; she folded more than a thousand paper cranes with the help of friends, hoping she would get well. She died several months later.

a new monument
Her seventh-grade classmates wanted to build a monument to Sadako and the thousands of other children who had died or were still dying from the bombing. Largely on their own, they organised a fund raising campaign. They asked children in Japan and thirteen countries to contribute the equivalent of five cents. More than three thousand Japanese schools and hundreds of foreign schools contributed, and in 1958 they had received enough to build a child-spirited structure in the middle of Peace Park topped by Sadako’s statue holding aloft a crane. At its base the monument reads THIS IS OUR CRY THIS IS OUR PRAYER TO BUILD PEACE IN THE WORLD.

    Sadako’s classmates also formed the Paper Crane Club, which continues today and involves students keeping the area around the Children’s monument clean, and bestowing necklaces of cranes on visitors.

    The International School students started thinking. Maybe we too could start a club. Why not contact kids around the world and tell them the stories of Sadako and the Paper Crane Club? People place millions of cranes at the base of the monument each year but you never saw an accompanying banner of the person or group who placed them there in any language but Japanese. Why not ask other kids from around the world to send cranes to be placed by us at the base of the Children’s Monument? Maybe it would start an activity that would help keep Hiroshima’s message of peace in the minds of children all the time, not only on special anniversaries.

global communities
A club would give foreign children living in Japan a chance to take part in the local and global communities, communicating with children from other countries, finding out what they were thinking and doing, all linked together by a common project. It seemed like a good idea because, like Sadako’s original cranes and the response of her classmates, it sprang spontaneously from a sincere wish to do something about a situation that seems hopelessly beyond a child’s influence. It was a manifestation of social concern, of creativity, of the urge to reach out across barriers of space and culture to become part of a larger community. It held the promise of taking the children beyond themselves.

    The belief that good teaching empoweres children to have wonderful ideas and supports them to follow through and actualise their creations.

   At the beginning of the school year in September 1985, the Hiroshima International School community voted that the 1000 Crane Club would become an integral feature of each class and of the school as a whole. Teachers would provide open class time for the project, be accepting of its expansion and integration into other domains, and would facilitate, but not dictate, what would happen with the activities and direction of the project. As much as possible the club would be children’s living social studies, consonant with the school’s emphasis on self-governance and the experiential study of Japanese culture and history. The students would research and publish a booklet on Hiroshima and Sadako and ask students to form 1000 Crane Clubs around the world. The children also decided the school’s Club would emphasise hands-on project extensions, cross-age work and teaching, debate and discussion of moral and social dilemmas, conflict mediation and resolution skills, role-playing and simulations, and arts and crafts.

    We decided as a community that each member would learn to fold a crane, at least as a Japanese craft. No one had to fold cranes ‘for peace’ (interpreted as folding cranes to go into the 1000 Crane Club booklet). We decided as a staff that active discussion of war and peace and the nuclear debates would arise only from the concerns of students themselves. The horror of Hiroshima and the anxieties of a potential holocaust would not be initiated by teachers; we would fervently support any discussion and exploration initiated by the students. However, teachers agreed the concepts of conflict and conflict resolution would be active and prominent features of our education program, as would the study of critical thinking, debate, advertising, and propaganda; and the history of a place, now called Hiroshima.

    Part of our reluctance for a nuclear-horror approach to peace education was that it was an emotional and cognitive imposition. Hiroshima City’s Peace Curriculum, which we were invited to adopt and which was required of all City elementary schools, begins in first grade with a typical lesson showing children drawings of the horrors of war, including bodies in flames, with the admonition, ‘War is terrible! War is wrong, isn’t it?’ While we agreed with the evil and inhumanity of war, we were bothered by the admonish-and-scare-them-to-believe-in-peace tactics.

    On the other hand, we weren’t living survivors of the atomic firebomb as were the writers of the curriculum. From our limited and perhaps naive perspective, peace was not the simple abolition of war and conflict. Peace was a way of life, an attitude toward self and others. How can we help children resolve conflicts more reasonably and humanely? If conflicts and problems are essential for growth, then collaborative conflict resolution and problem solving would become essential activities of our ‘peace club.’ Our greatest concern was to avoid simply talking about peace but to actualise it within the cooperative and collaborative ethos of our community. Preach little. Practice what we value a lot.

    On October 25, 1985, the thirtieth anniversary of Sadako’s death, the 1000 Crane Club was born. The students had spent over a month researching and planning their 1000 Crane Club booklet, which contains letters to students and teachers, a bibliography on Hiroshima, the story of Sadako, illustrations on paperfolding, and an actual paper crane. Hundreds of booklets were sent to important leaders and organisations and to Sadako’s parents and members of the Paper Crane Club who were present. Then we waited. Within the year hundreds of groups had written to receive the booklet, and by the end of 1986, when UNESCO’s Courier published a story on Sadako and the 1000 Crane Club, we had received a first 1000 cranes from a school in the United States, and in return, we had sent them a photograph and certificate of membership. The Club was launched.

    The story of Sadako and the Paper Crane Club is powerful on many levels. It illustrates a grim truth about nuclear weapons and symbolises a fear of nuclear war that has been a part of many children’s and adults’ consciousness for more than two generations. It is also the story of a young person’s patience, courage, hope and creative activism in the face of the ultimate fear of pain and death. Sadako’s story is the tale of the power of children working together in partnership for a common cause. Groups of children folded paper cranes, started a movement, raised funds, built a monument, and established paper cranes as a globally recognised symbol of hope and the wish for peace. The story thereby opened a channel for the creative, peaceful expression of fear about nuclear war in particular, and more generally, it provided a channel to express deep-felt concern about peoples’ inhumanity towards others, as well as the hope for a better world.

    Sadako’s classmates started a project that has lasted almost forty years and has become a tradition. It is a tradition that has grown primarily for the authenticity of its message. By that I mean it is a natural collaborative action; it is a non threatening, apolitical, humane way for children to express feelings that are extremely difficult to articulate and resolve. And by doing so children can subtly, yet recognisably, let the adults around them know how much they care for each other and for their survival. Finally, the work of Sadako’s classmates, like that of the International School children’s 1000 Crane Club, has served to give other children around the world concrete examples of work for and within peace education.

    Conflict, differing opinions, and even animated arguments were natural phenomena in our Club. From the authenticity of actively imagining, organising, researching and implementing a collaborative enterprise, we fostered a context for authentic growth. The goals of helping and joining others in a 1000 Crane project, locally or globally, leads easily and naturally to exploring the relationship between international conflict and peace, between conflict and peacefulness with friends and family, between our personal ‘internal’ conflicts and peace of mind. The project provides a natural context for the exploration of human justice and human rights and the environmental and people problems of the world. It provides an ethos for exploring the commonalities and wonderful diversity of being human, in all its interrelated, cross-cultural, inter cultural, and multicultural forms. Working together and discussing, role-playing, or getting involved in conflict in order to find reasonable, peaceful resolutions create an emotional paradox that provides an ideal context for significant insights and social bonding in the classroom.

    Whether children are six or twelve, folding cranes over an extended period of time provides a wonderful context for discussions and activities of peaceful collaboration. Whether five or ten minutes per day or several afternoons a week, to think of Sadako or participation in the 1000 Crane Club, or to reason about a classroom issue, is to feel and reason at some point through various mediums about friendship, fairness and justice, prejudice and equality, empathy and reciprocity – in short, a whole range of human values. Besides the value of arts and crafts, and the construction and creation of new forms, crane-folding sessions become a time to work together collaboratively, to help or teach others, to work for a common cause.

    Of the many teachers who have written to us, what is most striking is a common thread – this project encourages children and adults to enact social values not often given preference in our competitive, individualistic schooling. Over the past eight years not only have children raised monies to translate the booklet in Russian and Japanese but they have translated excerpts or written their own from Australia and Sweden to Argentina, India and Mexico. From hundreds of schools and classrooms in many countries, thousands of cranes have been sent to be placed at monuments in Peace Park.

    What is absolutely fascinating are the many wonderful spin-offs of this project, particularly the creative extensions it fosters in children and their teachers, and the interconnections made between groups of people. Besides sending colourful banners to accompany their cranes, groups have sent to Hiroshima hundreds of drawings, dioramas, collages, an original play, several video letters, tapes of songs (including original works), poetry, stories – all expressions of the human spirit to create, to reach out, and to touch others. Numerous classrooms and schools and groups have linked with each other – in some cases classrooms within a building; in others across town, a region, or a nation or between nations. Locally and globally inter-culturally linked!

    In Argentina various schools throughout the country sent cranes and then began exchanging students and projects with each other. In Germany a participating school created a cultural information exchange (video, artwork) with a 1000 Crane Club in Sweden. In Sweden a children’s agency published articles on the club in more than fifty magazines and newspapers. In Minneapolis groups of second graders each year teach groups of tenth graders to fold cranes as they discuss peace and conflict issues in their lives and a group of dedicated teachers formed a long-term partner linkage between inner city, suburban and rural schools. The Hands Across the Seas (HATS) project fosters collaborative research and service projects including the 1000 Cranes, but also the exchange of video letters and culture boxes. Each school is also linked to a partner school in South Africa, Japan, and Russia. Students in Redwood Falls, over the past five years have folded a thousand cranes for a peer sick with leukemia at the Mayo Clinic, for a local retirement home, and for the local families of servicemen serving during the Persian Gulf War. And in Albuquerque, New Mexico, students inspired by Sadako’s story decided to erect a children’s peace statue at Los Alamos, the test site for the A-bomb.

    Most recently in St. Paul, sister city of Nagasaki, children folded three thousand peace birds, paper doves, to accompany the first monument from outside Japan to be placed in Nagasaki’s Peace Park. All of these examples and stories, and there arehundreds of them, are of ordinary children collaborating and creating in, sadly, what are still most often unique situations. By working together in a communal atmosphere of cooperation for a common good and for the joy inherent in the task of creating, children, tacitly at least, are showing adults how much they care to work together actively and constructively and peacefully.

1000 Crane Club booklet is available from: ‘Birds of Peace’ United Nations Association of Minnesota, 1929 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55454, USA. Price,$10.00.


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