Why Peace and Justice are Critical to Humanist Education

The Kochhar Humanist Education Center, a project of the American Humanist Association working to promote education based in reason and ethics, provides curriculum resources for all ages in eight areas

  • Secular Humanism
  • Critical Thinking
  • Secular Values and Virtues
  • Science
  • Ethics in Action
  • Peace and Social Justice
  • Human Freedom
  • Building and Maintaining Relationships

These resources, formally called Curriculum Resources for the Life Span and to be used by AHA members interested in teaching humanism to others, include a wide variety of bibliographies and book reviews, DVD suggestions, lesson plans, course outlines, links to additional web resources, essays, and other writings by members of the Humanist Teacher Corps, a group of volunteer teachers and former teachers who have contributed greatly to the development of humanist curriculum.

I’d like to highlight one of the important components humanist education listed above, Peace and Social Justice. Why is peace and justice critical to humanist education? Let’s take a look at 2003’s Humanist Manifesto III (also called Humanism and Its Aspirations):

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Peace and Social Justice is a broad label that includes, specifically, Peace and Conflict Resolution and Social and Economic Justice. The Unitarian Universalist Association has provided a number of teaching tips and lesson plans on conflict resolution for elementary, middle, and high school students. As early as the first grade, humanist children are taught to affirm the worth of self and others, understanding the concept of friendship with people who are different from you, and appreciating nature. By high school, students are taught how to manage conflict and resolve it constructively, in addition to learning about famous people in history committed to peace and justice.

For adults, the writings of two excellent scholars, Carl Coon and Jeff Nall, provide resources for understanding peace and social justice through a humanist lens. Carl Coon, a former Ambassador to Nepal and former vice president of the American Humanist Association, is the author of One Planet, One People: Beyond ‘Us vs. Them’, published in 2004, which calls for all individuals to view the world as “us” together, rather than the instinctive notion to treat members of your own religious, ethnic, or cultural group well while viewing “others” with suspicion. Jeff Nall, a writer and activist, has written widely on humanism and peace. In an essay on “Remembering the Humanism of Martin Luther King,” Nall writes:

In another clear endorsement of church-state separation, King stated that the church “is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”

Though King’s legacy is often inextricably linked to his faith in God, he was hardly a cheerleader for the church as he found it and is best understood as a philosopher and social leader who happened to be passionately committed to Jesus Christ. For example, King believed the church had failed to fight for peace and social and economic justice. He also chided churches across the United States for having done little to fight segregation and racism. (Source)