In 1982, Colman McCarthy, a then-syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, went to the inner city high school nearest to his office to ask the principal if he could volunteer to teach a course on alternatives to violence. His offer was welcomed and he has been teaching at School Without Walls ever since.
Three years later, he added another school in DC, Woodrow Wilson High School. He then trained volunteers to teach the course, so he could go to another school, Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, where he has been volunteering since 1988. His daily first period class is at 7:25 a.m. and his students consistently rank it as one of the most popular courses at the school.
In addition to these efforts, McCarthy has been on the adjunct faculty at Georgetown University Law Center, the University of Maryland, Trinity College and Catholic University. This past year, he accepted an invitation to teach at the Oak Hill Youth Detention Center in Laurel, MD.
At all of these sites, his courses are on alternatives to violence. "If violence is a major problem in the world," McCarthy said, "then it's time I did something more than just write about it." He did, he began teaching about nonviolence. The purpose of the courses is to give students an intellectual grounding in the methods, history and practice of peacemaking. The courses are theoretical but practical also. McCarthy believes that the skills that Gandhi, King and history's other proven peacemakers used in their struggles for justice can be used by all of us, whether in our personal lives individually or collective lives politically.
Over the years, McCarthy has had more than 5,000 students. In 1985, he founded the Center for Teaching Peace, a nonprofit organization that helps schools begin or expand programs in peace, conflict resolution and peer mediation. Part of his work as director of the Center has been recruiting other volunteers as peace educators. More than 100 of his own students have been mobilized as volunteers. Among his former students that have taken to heart his call to service are Mark Gearen, director of the Peace Corps, Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts and Anthony Shriver, director of Best Buddies.
For high schools, the Center provides a curriculum for "Alternatives to Violence,” a teacher's guide that offers detailed suggestions on what works and what doesn't work in the classroom when teaching nonviolence, a set of 30 essays on peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution and a reading list of 50 books on nonviolence and peacemaking.
For colleges and universities, the Center provides a detailed syllabus for a 16 week course on "Alternatives to Violence,” a teacher's guide, a set of 70 essays on peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution and a reading list of 70 books on nonviolence.
Nearly all of McCarthy's teaching of nonviolence has been as an unpaid volunteer; he receives small stipends for the college and law school teaching. Additionally, he has been a regular unpaid speaker for the Close Up Foundation, addressing, over the years, several thousands of teachers and students on the topic, "How to be an Effective Peacemaker."
In the past six years, the Center for Teaching Peace has received general support grants from the Helen Sperry Lea Foundation, the Peace Development Fund, the Cafritz Foundation, the Schumann Foundation and matching grants from the Washington Post. Additionally, donations have been made by advisory board members and friends of the Center.
"McCarthy's ongoing involvement as a volunteer shows no sign of slowing," states John McCarthy, President of Elementary Baseball, "If anything it will be increasing."