- Francelia's Dream
Pablo Casals once performed an oratorio on peace in Southern France, where two thousand years earlier, world leaders met to declare a permanent end to war. But wars are still going on. We all know they should stop. . . . Now, when children see conflicts on TV, they will think, "How can these conflicts be made into games?" They will become participants in the process of conflict resolution instead of passive observers of destruction. Perhaps, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, we will see the beginning of the ending of conflict for all time.—Francelia Butler
Francelia Butler was a dreamer. She dreamed of a world where children would not be passive recipients of peace education but powerful agents of change. She dreamed of a time when children could apply lessons of peace and cooperation, learned through game-playing, to solve real-world problems. Francelia was also a doer. Not only was she a pioneer in the field of children's literature, she worked tirelessly toward the day when peace education would hold a prominent place in every school's curriculum. She realized that peace is not calm and quiet; instead it is laughter, shouting, righteous anger, and action.
In the late 1980s Francelia brought together two powerful convictions. First, she believed that adults had had their turn to make the world a more peaceful place, and they had failed. She believed that children deserved the opportunity and had the power to be catalysts for peace. Second, she realized that game-playing was a natural way for children to learn the skills of peace-making. It is through games that we first understand concepts of justice, fairness, and cooperation. In order to realize her vision, Francelia organized three annual festivals that brought together thousands of children from Connecticut to share their visions and plans for creating a peaceful world. Peace Games was born.
I first met Francelia in the fall of 1992.1 was a freshman at Harvard College and Francelia had just asked the Phillips Brooks House Association, [End Page 190] Harvard's community service center, to carry on the Peace Games Festival. Here was an eighty-year-old woman in black leather pants, with a passion for Big Bird, Maurice Sendak, and Elvis Presley. That meeting began six years of 7:00 A.M. phone calls, letter writing, and sharing. Having planned to volunteer for Peace Games for just one semester, here I am, almost seven years later, still following Francelia's vision. Her dream is contagious.
Francelia's dream is one of hope, but she also acknowledged the weight of violence that children face today. According to a 1995 report by the Centers for Disease Control, 15 children are shot and killed every day with a handgun, 312 children are arrested for committing violent crimes, and 270,000 guns go into our public schools. Before finishing elementary school, a child will view approximately 8,000 murders and another 100,000 violent acts on television. Children remember the violence they see and experience.
Violence silences and inhibits physical, intellectual, and spiritual development. Children cannot learn in schools where they do not feel safe. According to The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher, 1994, one-quarter of elementary students say that they are very worried about their safety when going to and from school, 44 percent of public school students have had personal experiences with angry scenes or confrontations, and 48 percent of students say that their schools do not have any sort of violence prevention program. In Boston, 49 percent of students participating in Peace Games reported seeing or knowing someone who had been shot, killed, or stabbed, and 32 percent knew someone who had brought a gun or knife into their school.
As a result of the violence they witness, children learn to hate, fight, and kill. Francelia believed that just as violent behavior can be learned, so can the skills of peace-making. As a society we model violence through the media, our institutions, and our everyday actions. Through the development of skills, relationships, and knowledge we can, and must, model a new ethos of peace-making. This is...