Educating for Peace

Thank you for the many messages of support that we have received from other schools, organisations, alumni and friends throughout the world. Paris is not the same, but continues to hold true to the city's motto Fluctuat nec mergitur (tossed but not sunk).

While there are some restrictions on field trips and other increased security measures, we have resumed the daily school life and our community feels supportive, safe and strong. Community is, indeed, one of the starting points of the message sent out by our Head of School, in the wake of these tragic events.

"The school has implemented changes to normal routines, given advice to families and created processes to put in place to inform and support the school community. All of these are intended to give us some peace of mind regarding our physical and emotional security after the recent terrible events here in Paris. While some of these measures may be for a limited period of time, it is difficult to believe that these events will not have a lasting impact on our lives and how we conduct them.

In response to the threat of terror, the primary responsibility of any school is to ensure safety and security and we continue to do this to the very best of our abilities. However, there are larger educational imperatives at stake too, especially as an international community whose greatest resource is a cultural diversity that includes a plurality of world views, practices and customs. It would be, and I think is, an error to link recent violence with any particular culture or nation. That others resort to such simplicities does not mean that we should follow them, and as a place of learning we should have the capacity to at least try to understand the tensions that inform our increasingly complex world. So, while perhaps not yet explicit in what we do in school, I would like to think that we are at least educating for peace.

Some years ago I published an article that raised amongst other questions the following:

"In a world characterized by division, violence and inequality, is it really enough for the education of a future citizen to be measured predominantly by academic competence?"

Nine years on and I feel that as educators we continue to struggle for an answer. As you already know, we have been conducting a strategic planning process to determine the future direction of the school. During this process we have referenced a variety of educational research one piece of which commented as follows:

"The changes in the world today are characterized by new levels of complexity and contradiction. These changes generate tensions for which education is expected to prepare individuals and communities by giving them the capability to adapt and respond... This second decade of the twenty-first century marks a new historical juncture, bringing with it different challenges and fresh opportunities for human learning and development. We are entering a new historical phase characterized by the interconnectedness and interdependency of societies and by new levels of complexity, uncertainty and tensions."

As such, I would like the school to see our response to the attacks on our lives as a stimulus to model a path to reconciliation. This will be testing, might well involve disagreement but will be in service of larger duties and will need to look beyond our often narrow horizons. After the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the French, Algerian born, Arabic speaking Sephardic Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote this in Philosophy in a Time of Terror:

"...a limited tolerance is clearly preferable to an absolute intolerance. But tolerance remains a scrutinized hospitality, always under surveillance, parsimonious, and protective of its sovereignty. In the best cases, it is what I would call a conditional hospitality, the one that is commonly practiced by individuals, families, cities or states. We offer hospitality only on the condition that the other follows our rules, our way of life, even our language, our culture, our political system and so on...The visit [of the other] might be actually very dangerous, and we must not ignore this fact, but would hospitality without risk, a hospitality backed by certain assurances, a hospitality protected by an immune system against the wholly other, be true hospitality? Though it's ultimately true that suspending or suppressing the immunity that protects me from the other might be nothing sort of life-threatening."

Complex and disturbing as this reads, the absence of such understanding is equally life-threatening. As a community I would like to think that we can shoulder our duties to others with as much effort as we defend our rights. It is difficult to understand what else a community might involve in times such as ours other than to express our solidarity with those whose lives have been marred or lost.

While I recognize that some people might disagree with what I have said here, I hope it is able to stimulate the dialogue that often appears so sadly missing at the moment. I would encourage our community to join the various information sessions arranged so that I can understand their own feelings as we move forward together."

Simon Murray
Head of School

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