published Monday, April 4th, 2011

Cook: Stop violence by teaching peace

By David Cook

One cold evening last fall, Kimberly Bell and her family were worshipping at church when she looked over and saw her beloved son’s heart break in half.

A text message had just appeared on his cell, telling him that his best friend had been shot in the face.

Bell, who has seen hard times before, shook her head in sorrow as she heard the rest of the story: Her 14-year-old son’s friend had been shot after he would not stop teasing — what Bell called “jugging” — another boy.

Tired of the teasing, the boy shot her son’s friend, who was in an emergency room fight for his life.

Hearing this, Bell, a tall woman with even more courage than height, knelt down and prayed a prayer we all in Chattanooga seem to be uttering: “God, what is really going on around here?”

From Jan. 16 to March 23, there were 25 reported incidents of people being shot in Chattanooga. Bell, who lives in East Lake public housing, claims the violence has become like a soundtrack to their lives.

“We hear gunshots and police sirens all the time,” she said.

In that same 9 1/2 weeks, there have been 28 days of recorded rainfall, reminding me of the old Bob Dylan song.

A hard rain is falling on our city.

The great showers should end, yet Bell’s haunting prayer still seems unanswered: How do we stop the violence?

Curfews, signs in Coolidge Park, increased police patrol — all of this helps, but only in the way a towel wipes up the blood but doesn’t stop the bleeding.

I would like to suggest a different approach.

If we want to stop violence, we have to teach peace.

Each May, we graduate thousands of students from area schools and universities who have been required for years — if not decades — to study mathematics, English, history and science. They’ve read dozens of books, written hundreds of essays, solved thousands of problems and memorized millions of facts.

Yet these same students have never formally studied how to forgive an enemy, resolve a conflict without rage or fists, or build a peaceful community.

The result: We graduate students illiterate in the ways of making peace within themselves and with the world around them.

As another peace educator, Colman McCarthy, likes to say: “If we don't teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.”

Peace Studies, also known as Nonviolent Conflict Resolution, is a growing discipline worldwide. Its core methodology is centered on the idea that violence does not have to happen, and that by teaching alternatives to violence, we can introduce and encourage attitudes and behaviors that foster reconciliation, justice and a laying down of arms — as individuals, communities and nations.

It works like magic. In the years I’ve taught Peace Studies courses — to middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students and adults — I have seen classrooms come alive around the stories, ideas, questions and issues presented.

By teaching peace, we examine the ways in which the Nazis were defeated nonviolently (Denmark), how the Crips and Bloods made peace (Aqeela Sherrills in Watts), how dictators are overthrown (Otpor in Serbia) and how enemies are transformed into friends (

By teaching peace, we examine the Freedom House study which asserts that in the last 30 years, nearly 70 countries shifted from authoritarian to democratic rule, and in the vast majority of cases, they have done so using nonviolent methods.

By teaching peace, we listen to the stories of those — like King, Gandhi and Christ — who refuse to have enemies, despite all the violence they encounter.

Last year, Bell was in the Peace Studies class I teach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Wanting to counteract the message of violence our society sometimes promotes, she and her classmates stenciled quotes from King, Christ and Gandhi onto signs and walked into a cold November night to stand along the sidewalk of M.L. King Boulevard.

As rush hour traffic passed by, they held their signs high into the air.

A hard rain was falling.

By the time they walked back to campus, the rain had stopped.

David Cook can be reached at

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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xyzyra said...

In one breath we say we want peace, unity, compassion and respect for one another. But our actions suggest just the opposite. We create situation and practice exclusiveness, look the other way when authority abuse citizens. All the while knowing these are some of the very things that promote and encourage violence. WE mock other religions, but demand ours be respected. We hold others in distain because they're considered not of our social class, standing. We make derogatory statements about others because of their economic status or their zip code. We're such a hypocritic nation. We openly pray for peace, then go behind closed doors to encourage war and division.

April 4, 2011 at 10:37 a.m.
SeaMonkey said...

peace has never been awarded or's always had to be fought for.

"refuse to have enemies"...what does that mean....who wants enemies?

first of all...if the allied forces didn't beat the crap out of the nazis everyone in europe would be speaking german..

it's not violence if you defend your home or your family.

it's fine to forgive an enemy..but that doesn't mean you allow them to harm you or your family. you need to defeat them and forgive them.

calling out those who are committng crimes has to be done....

the people responsible for the shootings in coolidge park are black teen thugs/gang types.. call them out for it..

those responsible for the terrorist attack on 9/11 are all muslim extremist males....nobody them out for it

timothy mcveigh and another guy were responsible for the blowing up of the federal building in okc....nobody them out for it

dancing around and not putting the blame on those who committed the crime does not help the cause of peace...

it doesn't do any good to let down your defenses and ask for peace if the other party has no intention to......

April 4, 2011 at 12:44 p.m.
sangaree said...

@SeaMonkey. Are you absolutely 1000% sure those 9/11 terrorists attacks were carried out by Muslim extremist males?

Are you absolutely 1000% sure the ones causing chaos at Coolidge Park are all black males? That area of town was once known as a "sun downing" area. Looks like there's a drive to get the area back to those exclusive days. Ask someone with historical knowledge to explain what that term means.

April 4, 2011 at 3:36 p.m.
Leaf said...

Seamonkey said, "the people responsible for the shootings in coolidge park are black teen thugs/gang types.. call them out for it.. those responsible for the terrorist attack on 9/11 are all muslim extremist males....nobody them out for it timothy mcveigh and another guy were responsible for the blowing up of the federal building in okc....nobody them out for it"

To be consistent, don't you mean to say in the last paragraph, "those responsible for the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City were white American them out for it?"

April 4, 2011 at 3:54 p.m.
nucanuck said...

The US cultural identity is wrapped in violence from the day the white man set foot in North America. The frontier spirit is both much admired and a violent part of what endures into today's society.

The increasing American societal violence we are now experiencing is almost certainly connected to the increasing economic disparity and dispair.

Trying to teach peace to a country that systemically, if inadvertantly, abuses it's citizenry, is not likely to be a winning strategy.

The 10% with most of the nations wealth will have to build higher and higher walls. Just look around the world for stabile nations with wide income disparity. You won't find them.

Fairness will have to preceed peacefulness.

April 6, 2011 at 1:04 p.m.
Rtazmann said...


February 17, 2012 at 11:28 a.m.
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