Wil LaVeist
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Words are powerful, which is why the Language for Peace project aims to explore how Anabaptist and other philosophies of peacemaking are incorporated into various language courses – Spanish, German, Korean, French, English, etc. – in North America and around the world.

Language for Peace recently launched the website to be an online community forum where language educators can explore ideas and utilize resources about how to incorporate an Anabaptist perspective into language instruction. Language instructors are already incorporating faith as part of courses. The website will provide a space for conversation and sharing ideas.

The project is coordinated by Mennonite Partners in China, an agency with long experience in developing theory and practice for English-language teaching in China and in North America. One of MPC’s supporting partners is Mennonite Mission Network. Other supporting agencies are Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada Witness, and Eastern Mennonite Missions.

MPC Director Myrrl Byler was among those who got the project up and running.

“Just as Anabaptists have been at the forefront of developing ministries focused on peacebuilding, so, too, they can offer their gifts to the broader language teaching profession,” Byler said. “Anabaptists have a unique opportunity to help create a larger vision for language education that broadens perspectives, builds understanding, and encourages the development and practice of peacemaking skills.”

Byler said that language educators are beginning to work through the theological and pedagogical implications of teaching English from an Anabaptist perspective. Language learning and teaching is not simply a tool for peace education, but the process itself can begin to break down barriers. 

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Cheryl Woelk, coordinator of the project, hopes the website will engage educators in discussions that lead to new ways of thinking about an old idea – how to incorporate peace in the classroom. The project aims to engage participation from language educators – including linguists, active language instructors, peacemaking professionals, etc. – who identify with Anabaptism, she said. Especially welcomed will be international workers with Mennonite agencies who serve abroad, as well as English Language Learner teachers who are active in North America.

Within language there are many aspects that are deeply connected to who we are,” said Woelk who works as the LINC and Literacy Program coordinator for Saskatchewan Intercultural Association in Saskatoon, Sask., Canada. “How we deal with conflicts and how we deal with relationships reflects the kind of language we use in society and how we interact with people who use other languages. We’re teaching more than just grammar.”

Language, when misused, can lead to dire consequences. Historically, this has happened in cases of war, where propaganda descriptions and epithets are used to dehumanize and create enemies. Dehumanization makes it easier for people to commit acts of violence against each other. 

Recognizing the power of words and the role of the media, in November 2013, the International Press Institute published Use With Care: A Reporter’s Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The guide warns journalists of certain words that could promote and incite further misunderstandings.

For example, is the word “respond” or “retaliate” a more appropriate term to use? Respond could mean to do something desirable and good, while retaliate typically refers to a rash, violent reaction. If the word is referring to an action involving, for example, a bomb being dropped on a village, either word could be problematic to use.

Woelk explained that she uses standard language textbooks when teaching courses. However, the texts often contain passages that are about current global issues such as conflicts in the Middle East. 

Since the courses are also opinion classes, discussions are frequent. A safe space should be created where students, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, can feel comfortable expressing themselves without being chastised.

As students are exposed to different cultural ideas, they end up expressing these ideas through their new-found language. They ponder and discuss the issues as they learn. Sometimes they discover that certain concepts in, for example, English do not exist in their native tongues, and vice versa.

This exposure to different cultural concepts by way of language learning opens educational possibilities and the space for potential reconciliation between people and with God, which is at the heart of the gospel, Woelk said.

“It’s not a new concept,” Woelk said, regarding discussions of faith in the classroom. “In order to be a whole person, the classroom is where we have to integrate who we are from a spiritual perspective. Good educators are trying to be intentional about how we are acting out our faith in the classroom as teachers and learners. The project’s vision is to have more conversation about it, to be more open about it.”

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Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact
news@mennonitemission.net.

 

 

 

 



 

 

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