Tony Jenkins on a planetary ethic and universal responsibility

Tony Jenkins - November, 2006

Guest Column

Tony Jenkins is the Co-Director of the Peace Education Center at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Global Coordinator of the International Institutes on Peace Education (IIPE), coordinating Institutes in the Philippines, Korea, Turkey, Greece, Costa Rica and in 2007 Spain.

 The International Institute for Peace Education (IIPE) was founded in 1982 by Betty Reardon and faculty colleagues at Teachers College and has been held annually in different parts of the world since then. IIPE 2006 was co-organized by the Peace Education Center of Teachers College, Columbia University (New York) and the UN mandated University for Peace (Costa Rica). Its theme was "Toward a Planetary Ethic: Shared and Individual Responsibility”.   Anita Wenden, Transitions editor, interviewed Tony Jenkins on IIPE 2006.

I’d like to begin with questions about the theme of the IIPE 2006. What is meant by a planetary ethic?

The idea of a planetary ethic is best captured in principle 1(a) of the Earth Charter which asks for a recognition “that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.”

Why did the IIPE choose this theme?

The theme of every IIPE is collaboratively determined by the staff of the Peace Education Center and the host institution - this year being the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. It is intended as an inquiry into a problem of possible relevance to the global and host community. The host community is defined regionally, and in 2006 comprised the Latin American region. In choosing the theme we sought to build upon the rich precedent of work developed around Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) within the region and to complement it with various peace education frameworks. In so doing one of our goals was to explicate that ESD is holistic and comprehensive, framed by an ecological perspective that is also inclusive of social, economic, and political dimensions. A planetary ethic also provides a much needed lens for peace education. Ecological and systems thinking have long been a part of peace education and putting a new emphasis on these dimensions provides a common focal point around which disparate global leaders, activists and educators can build consensus and community.

Is such an ethic actually shared by citizens?

This is the educational and learning challenge the IIPE addressed. For any ethic to have meaning and effect there must be widespread agreement on its principles. It requires that both institutions and citizens adopt and live according to the rights and responsibilities accorded to its principles. Some broad educational changes need to occur in order to prepare citizens to be aware of their rights, to ensure their achievement, and to engage with others in community to ensure their rights collectively. We used the institute’s sub-themes of shared and individual responsibility to open an inquiry into the learning and institutional changes that should occur to nurture a planetary ethos as well as our responsibilities as educators and planetary stewards in this process.

The main theme of IIPE 2006 is said to be inspired by the principle of universal responsibility, which appears in the Earth Charter, a statement of universal values and ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century.

What is universal responsibility? To whom does it apply? For what are we to be responsible?

The idea of universal responsibility is captured very well in the preamble of the Earth Charter as “identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world.” It is a multidimensional conception of responsibility rooted in the interdependence of all living things. It calls for us to examine how our local actions contribute to the global, and vice-versa, and to be mindful of how our present actions affect the future.

Does this principle apply to all planetary citizens?

Universal responsibility applies to everyone although the extent of one’s responsibility is largely determined by the individual rights and freedoms one has achieved. Principle 2(b) of the Earth Charter notes that “with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good.”

Do contemporary social values facilitate or inhibit its implementation?

Universal responsibility is a daunting premise that is undermined by the current ethos of individualism and nation-state sovereignty. Individualism and sovereignty are the cornerstones of the present world order. Neither are totally void of ethical merit. However they represent such a dominant perspective in the present developmental paradigm that community values have been drastically eroded. In adopting a living-systems or ecological perspective we can see the short-sightedness of individualism and sovereignty in assuring the sustainability of life on our planet.

What pedagogies are required to foster a consciousness of universal responsibility?

Through the work of the IIPE we’ve observed that learner centered, process oriented pedagogies are most effective in nurturing individual change and preparing learners with capacities for active and engaged citizenship. We often describe this as a “pedagogy of engagement,” a learning approach that engages the whole person on multiple levels. It welcomes all perspectives, ideas, beliefs and understandings; enables all to engage fully in the learning; creates possibilities for new, collectively developed ideas, knowledge, and wisdoms to come together; and nurtures the building of community.

Would you consider an IIPE as suitable for educating for universal responsibility?

I think the IIPE is a great model for educating for universal responsibility. The IIPE is a short-term multicultural learning opportunity in which participants learn from and with each other. At the same time the IIPE seeks to foster a community of learners engaged in a common inquiry set forth by the theme. Partnerships and collaborative projects are often formed between participants as an outcome of the IIPE.

What were some of the highlights of IIPE 2006?

Each year the IIPE schedules excursions to local community initiatives and projects that have relevance to the theme. Participants were able to choose among three different sites this year: a community in which several sustainable development projects have been initiated via non formal education strategies; two communities of low socioeconomic status comprised primarily of Nicaraguan immigrants in which the University for Peace has established several service learning sites in schools and community organizations; and a primary and high school noted for mainstreaming ESD. The excursions were an opportunity to witness the ideas presented at the IIPE in action.

What do you consider to have been outstanding educational outcomes?

This year’s participants provided evidence of their commitment to a planetary ethic and to the tasks of universal and differentiated responsibility by drafting and individually signing “A Statement on the Urgent Need for Peace Education, ” which calls on governments to bring “their most urgent attention to the task of developing and adopting the many possibilities that can bring an end to war and armed violence and to educate
their citizens to achieve and uphold a just and sustainable peace.”