«CORA WEISS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT The Reminiscences of Cora Weiss Columbia Center for Oral History Columbia University PREFACE The following oral ...»
Weiss: Well, we'll see in a minute, because they don't want to break up their fight, and, "Where did you learn that, young man?" "Oh," he said, "In school." So, the parents go to school and complain to the teacher, and a parent's group has been started, Resolving Conflict Creatively. So these things happen, either because of an individual or a group of individuals, or a group of teachers. Now we're trying to get the Global Campaign for Peace Education adopted by Toledo University in Ohio, and we're close, I think. We will have a professor, Tony Jenkins [phonetic],
students on board Peace Boat, where Peace Boat U.S. has a peace education program going from port to port to port.
So, in small ways, one by one, hopefully with a multiplier effect. In January of this year, the Committee on Teaching About the U.N., CTAUN, where I'm an honorary patron—that impressed me—with Anwarul Chowdhury from Bangladesh, and a third person from UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], who changes as the UNESCO person changes. We had a conference, an all-day conference for educators from the greater area on peace education, or Education For Peace, where I spoke. It happens. You know, you talk about it, you have a discussion with the educators, they bring it home to their schools, the students bring it home and talk to their teachers about it. It's a growing field.
Q: You say an online newsletter?
Weiss: It's an online newsletter, monthly.
Q: And that keeps up with what people are doing— Weiss: What's going on in the field.
Q: Best practices, bibliography—
Weiss: Jobs in the field. And references. It's global. It's the Global Campaign for Peace Education. We have a young man who came to The Hague Appeal for Peace conference in The Hague in '99, and went back and started The Hague Appeal for Peace University in New Delhi.
Now, it's not a university, it's courses. But he has not stopped. He continues. He's working in a corner, I think, that is bordered with Pakistan. Anyway, he continues to carry on the peace education program, and he's constantly sending emails to Betty Reardon, who ran the program in Teacher's College, and me, to ask for our advice. It's a lovely, lovely relationship! But it's catching on. It's not peace studies. Peace studies pretty much study wars.
Q: Yes, right.
Weiss: The history of war.
Q: Yes, yes. Yes.
Weiss: It's peace education that is, we hope, a new way of looking at education, and including things that are important. Non-violence is essential—it's part of the definition.
Weiss: I like to think that it would be included in peace agreements. The word ‘education’ never happened, never appeared in the Geneva Accord, which was a people's peace agreement to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called the Geneva Accord because Switzerland offered free housing and space to Palestinians and Israelis to work out an accord. I took one look at it, I read it, the word ‘education’ never appeared, and I immediately got in touch with Yossi Beilin, who was one of the writers. But we also did something else more interesting. Two people, an Israeli Orthodox Jewish woman and her counterpart colleague, a Palestinian writer, ran a program called Middle East Children’s Association [MECA]. They ran it for three or four years, until they ran out of money. We gave them a Hague Appeal for Peace award, the two of them together. I put the question to them, "Would you be willing to write an annex to the peace agreement for the Geneva Accord on Peace Education?” –because they are Israeli and Palestinian.
Weiss: "But," I said, "Would you write it in such a way that it would be adaptable to any peace agreement?" To their everlasting credit, they wrote the most beautiful, two-page simple student exchange, teacher exchange, examination of textbooks for hatred, teaching for reconciliation. It was remarkable. And it's available— Q: Sounds like a curriculum guide, almost.
Weiss: It is. It's what teachers should do to help implement the peace agreement. And it's online.
It's available for anybody who wants to use it. If they can't find it, they can write to me. But, it's a concrete example of a contribution that we made in peace education that I'm very proud of. It's really terrific.
Q: Now, do you recall, way back when, when you first began to think in this way about what you were doing? I mean, in Women Strike for Peace, you're agitating, you're lobbying, you're marching, etc.
Weiss: We're educating on what the content of the nuclear— Q: Did it formally come to your mind that this is really educating?
Weiss: We had to learn about atomic bombs, or we wouldn't have been able to talk about why they had to be abolished.
Weiss: Or, not tested in the atmosphere.
Weiss: Well, we went teaching what we learned.
Weiss: That was the mechanism to create public opinion to support us.
Q: Was there ever a discussion in Women Strike for Peace that maybe we should work up a curriculum to this?
Q: That comes later?
Weiss: Yes. Yes. You know, education is an interesting thing. It takes two. We're always learners, I think. When I go to a meeting and say, "Who here is an educator?" Everybody raises their hands. "And who here is a learner?" Nobody learns—and I'm the only learner in the room?
You know, people have to realize that they're learning every day, I hope.
Weiss: But you know, I was a volunteer in the public school system from 1960 to ‘62. I brought students from Harlem to the U.N. and brought U.N. ambassadors from Africa to Harlem. It was a totally ghettoized school, all black, basically. Maybe there were some Hispanic kids. And that was my way of teaching and opening their heads to the fact that there's another world out there, and they're a part of it.
Weiss: But I didn't say to myself, "I'm an educator," but it's very interesting to me that I've come full circle.
Q: [laughs] Weiss: Back to education. Because I've decided that it's the only sustainable thing. You can march, you can protest, you can make phone calls, you can write letters. But education is the closest thing, I think, to a sustainable form of social change.
Q: Where do you get the money?
Weiss: You apply for it. You look for grants. But Women Strike for Peace, we used to pass the
Q: Right. Yes. But sometimes— Weiss: And Bella had the hat.
Q: Yes? [laughs] So, like peace education, what strikes me is something the Gates Foundation should put a lot of money into.
Weiss: I wouldn't take it from them, I don't think, not without being very, very—I mean, I'd love it, obviously, right? But I'd be very conditional, because huge amounts of money, which is how they give their money— Q: Right.
Weiss: —they have to give away five percent of what they've got. Five percent of billions is a lot. Huge amounts of money given to people who have never spent huge amounts of money is not always the effective—I don't want to use the word efficient, but effective—way of spending money. So, we would have—if we took it from Gates, if they offered it, we'd have to have a lot of talk about how it was going to be spent.
Q: Sometime when we resume, I want to talk about the Rubin Foundation, and—but we've kind of come to a point now, today's session is over only because I've got a doctor's appointment, because I'd love to keep going.
Weiss: Keep talking. [laughs] Q: But I finally got you talking about yourself. But in a really nice way!
Q: I like this conversation!
Weiss: [laughs] At last!
Weiss: I must say, I was a little upset last time.
Q: Yes, we weren't going anywhere. I was too empirical in the sense of getting that detail, the detail, the detail, the detail, this is much more—
Q: Yes. Because when we closed up last time, I asked you would you be more comfortable? And I sensed that you would be more comfortable talking this way. We do have the ability to go back and to mine different kinds of topics, as they emerge.
Weiss: Well, what I am today comes from where I've come from.
Q: But it's a way of getting back into that.
Q: In a much more— Weiss: Everything I've done, I'm sure, has influenced my behavior and my priorities.
Weiss: Betty Reardon was at lunch here two days ago. Do you know her?
Weiss: She ran the PEC, Peace Education Center. It was a peace education program at Teacher's College, which was never embraced by the college as a part of its curriculum, even though she taught courses which students could get credit for, and they couldn't graduate in peace education, but that could be part of their curriculum.
Weiss: She was not paid by Teacher's College. Right? She's been living on social security for twenty-five years. She lives in the Morningside Gardens, where Peter and I first bought our first apartment when it was on paper, before it was built. Because it was going to be an interracial, inter-everything.
Weiss: Yes, housing project, which we appreciated. We ended up in Greenwich Village.
Anyway, she's terrific. She and Gillian Sorensen and Peter and I were in The Hague a year ago, September, at a peace philanthropy conference, because it was some centennial. Oh, it was Carnegie's centennial. Andrew Carnegie. We all spoke at the conference, and Gillian and I spoke at a very fancy black-tie event. I will tell you, that is where I learned to make a two-minute speech. I always used to say, "Two minutes? I'm only getting started in two minutes!" But now,
Q: Once, in an offhand kind of self-deprecating comment you said to me when you were putting your microphone on, that, "You never met a microphone that you didn't like."
Weiss: You like that one-liner? It's one of my one-liners. Well, I do like speaking, because I don't think of it as speaking, but as educating, as influencing, as sharing ideas. I don't get up to a microphone, unless I have something to say.
Q: But you're quite comfortable doing it.
Weiss: Yes. I'm a little anxious about this talk I have to give about Jonathan Schell. Also, I have written almost every speech I've given.
Weiss: But that's because if I'm challenged, I want to have the evidence of what I've said, so I can't be accused of saying something that I didn't say. I have Wikipedia, unfortunately, to thank for that, because of the attacks that I've been victim of.
Q: Well, I know in classes, the students have sometimes asked me if they can record my lectures.
And I said, "No," because I don't want to be responsible for everything I say without notes. You
Q: And I don't—intellectually, I don't want to be responsible for that.
Weiss: That's why I've written it down! [laughter] Q: Maybe that's where we— Weiss: Barnard [College]. You want that?
Weiss: There's a wonderful man, wonderful, who does a human rights course at Barnard.
Q: Peter Juviler?
Weiss: Oh no, but I know him. It's another name. Anyway, lovely guy. He called me, and “Would I come and speak to the class?” about whatever I've done that was relating to whatever they were talking about. In the last few years since Peter has retired, I've tried to engage him with me, involve him with me in everything I'm invited—so, if I'm invited to speak in The Hague, I say, "Can Peter speak, too?" Because he's got plenty to talk about. It has always
corporate abuse, and he asked if I could speak too, about women and corporate abuse and human rights.
Now it's in writing, I showed you the book. So, this guy calls and asks me to come to Barnard to speak. I invite Peter, and Peter and I come to speak, and there's no text. There's nothing written, because we want to talk about what they want to hear. So we asked them, "What do you want to talk about?" It was a lot of fun. Each of us did a presentation. I can't remember what mine was. I probably could if I were put to the test. But it engaged the students. They wanted to keep in touch, you know. It was a wonderful experience, I think probably because he was such a good teacher, that he had already created a wonderful atmosphere among his students.
Q: But it's something a little different for you.
Weiss: Yes. No text.
Weiss: I spoke at Bard [College]. That's another example where our grandson, Noah, was taking a class in peace history, but I think it was really war history, or more war, with a professor and his associate. Somehow, Noah talked to his professor about Grandma, because it was relevant to whatever they were studying. The professor invited me to come and speak, and I said, "OK, but
loved it. We love interacting with students. Anyone younger is more fun. And more interesting, because they don't learn a lot of this stuff.
Q: They are interesting.
Weiss: Whoever heard of Women Strike for Peace?
Weiss: I'm very sad that I can't find a very thick scrapbook that somebody whom I had never heard of before, somebody who heard me talk, made of my talks when I came back from Vietnam with the agreement and the letters, the first 300 letters. She clipped, or got a clipping service, for all of the newspapers that I was in in the country, and sent this to me. It was fantastic!
Q: They have a file down at Swarthmore.
Q: With a lot of clippings about—yes.
Q: Big, thick file, of clippings.
Weiss: But this was a scrapbook.