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Activist Argues For Peace Departments At Schools

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By Jessica Gould

For decades, Colman McCarthy touted pacifism as a columnist for the Washington Post. And for the past 28 years, he's been touting Peace Studies at area schools.

Every day, Colman McCarthy bikes across the Washington area, peddling his message of peace. His first stop is Bethesda Chevy Chase high school in Maryland, where he teaches two Peace Studies classes. A few hours later, he's on the road again, cycling down Wisconsin Avenue. By 9:30, the soft-spoken 71 year-old is peeling off his layers and offering his particular worldview --this time to the students at Wilson High School in the District.

"I teach the literature of peace, the methods of nonviolence which I think are much more effective than the methods of fists, bombs, armies and nukes, which clearly are not working," says McCarthy.

He estimates he's taught 8,000 students over the years, assigning them essays on Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. His goal is not just to teach, but to have a Peace Studies Department in high schools across the country.

"Why don't we teach peace the same way we teach science and math and English and history and all the other academic subjects? Because unless we teach our children peace, somebody else will teach them violence," he says.

Jaafar Mohamed, one of McCarthy's students, grew up in Baghdad. He says he faced violence first-hand: three of his friends were killed, another was kidnapped, and one day, a bomb shattered the windows of his home.

"I was 12 years old when all that happened. I felt that there was not enough support for peace and more for violence by the government and by a lot of groups of people you know and I feel like we need to step our game up a little bit and have more of those peace courses that Mr. McCarthy requires. Especially in American high schools,"says Mohamed.

Wilson High School principal Pete Cahall isn't opposed to peace studies. He says he thinks a program devoted to peace and leadership might work.

"We've been talking about that for the last year. I think it's a valuable class. And it could be a valuable sequence of courses that would really heighten students' awareness, in again, peace and leadership," says Cahall.

It's a priority, Cahall says, though he admits not a top priority. Maybe next year.

For his part, McCarthy isn't placing bets that anything will happen in 2011. But just as wars continue while he preaches peace, he refuses to be discouraged.

"There’s an old saying I.F. Stone, the great journalist, one of my heroes. He said you have to fight the battles you’re always going to lose, and lose, and lose and lose, because some day, somebody will take up the same battle a hundred years from now and they will win," he says.

McCarthy says he thinks he's lost the battle this time. But someday, he says, someone else might win.

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