This fall, Crest social studies teacher Gavin Tierney will bring conflict resolution and international peacekeeping to the classroom. With 2008 headlines awash in political conflict — from Iraq to Darfur to the recent war in Georgia — the importance of such topics in education is growing. Eager to broaden Crest’s social studies program, Tierney attended a six-day summer institute at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, D.C., exploring ways to integrate international conflict resolution and peacemaking strategies into the high school curriculum.
“I was looking for professional development over the summer and came across this opportunity,” said Tierney, who returned last week from the Summer Institute on International Peace, Security and Conflict Management for Secondary School Teachers.
The Crest social studies teacher was one of 16 educators — all of whom were accepted through a competitive application process — who attended the seminar from across the nation. The USIP asked applicants to explain their interest in peace studies and give some background on their teaching methods and school. Earlier this summer, Tierney was thrilled to learn that he had been accepted.
“I feel like there’s not a lot of truly inspirational, professional development opportunities in teaching, so I felt very honored to be there,” he said.
During the conference, Tierney listened to a number of esteemed academics discuss situations of conflict in the world, the subtext behind each and peacekeeping resolutions. Examples ranged from the Palestinian-Israeli dispute to the Iraq war. The depth of knowledge shared on each subject, Tierney said, was truly inspiring.
“I learned an insane amount. They had elite scholars from different countries. Every major conflict you could think of, there was someone who spoke on it,” he said.
What Tierney plans to share with his students, he said, will broaden their knowledge of both international affairs and civic issues in their own neighborhood. The teacher is already working on a new curriculum based on the ideas that he sponged up in Washington, D.C.
“[Conflict management] is one of those beautiful things that applies to students in their day-to-day life that also applies to Russia and Georgia,” Tierney said. “It’s something I’m excited about bringing to the students; that there are ways [to avoid war] by negotiating and involving different players outside politicians.”
Teachers at Crest have placed increasing focus on civic studies and community building within the curriculum, Tierney said. In addition to his social studies and English classes, Tierney leads a service learning class at the school. Inspired by last month’s seminar in Washington, D.C., the teacher hopes to develop a second-semester class focusing on human rights and restructure his 12th-grade international studies class to prioritize conflict resolution. He plans to collaborate on these projects with fellow social studies/English teacher Brody LaRock.
“Most of my students have an understanding of why there’s conflict in certain areas — such as the Olympics in China over Tibet — but I’m hoping to deepen this knowledge,” Tierney said.
For the next three weeks of summer, Tierney will be busy preparing his fall syllabus. He has much work to do. There are curricular changes to make, projects to introduce and ideas to materialize. Eager to share his experience at the U.S. Institue of Peace with colleagues and students, Tierney is ready for the school year to begin.