One of the biggest obstacles to peace begins in the classroom. This is what we are doing about it.
"They [non-vegetarians] easily cheat, tell lies, they forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex crimes." An excerpt from a Grade 6 textbook being taught in Gujrat, India.
"... the style adopted by Gandhi is nothing but cheating and hypocrisy and cunningness." An excerpt from a Pakistani textbook being taught in Punjab, Pakistan.
Biased history in textbooks continues to shape the identities of millions of young minds and systematically lay the foundation for perpetual intolerance, mistrust, fear and conflict.
These passages from Indian and Pakistani textbooks are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hateful material being taught to young impressionable minds on a daily basis. It is the same material that ends up being tested through exams that determines the professional futures of these students. Any opinion that deviates from verbatim regurgitation of these narratives is penalized.
While the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals correctly identify the importance of access to education (Goal #4), the world is yet to fully recognize the danger to the minds that actually make it to school. Minds that are exposed to biased historical narratives and systematically conditioned to be intolerant.
We founded The History Project to help tackle this indoctrination, and which also follows the path laid out by Goal #16, for Peace and Justice: "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development."
The two of us discovered the power of being exposed to the "other" at a young age through an organization called Seeds of Peace, which gave us the rare opportunity to meet our proverbial enemies from across the border in India during a three-week summer camp program in the state of Maine.
As one of our Project colleagues from India describes the experience, "We couldn't quite reconcile any difference of opinion, but we walked away with something even more powerful. We learned that, in order to coexist, we need to learn to respect the existence of differences in opinion, even if we can't find a common ground."
Such a powerful takeaway begs the question: how does one upscale this experience to millions living in communities in conflict around the world?
That is where The History Project comes in. Led by young, passionate Indians and Pakistanis, the Project blends academics and activism to create innovative educational materials that juxtapose competing national narratives found in history textbooks. The Project also works with educational institutions to take these materials directly into classrooms.
Most importantly, the Project continues to revive the interest of students in the discipline of history, leaving them open to the idea their reality may not be the only truth out there. Instead of offering the "correct" version of history, it empowers young minds to ask better questions and to form their own opinions, rather than allowing someone else to define their identities for them.
With the level of interest this approach continues to accumulate, and the impact it continues to amass, we'd love to see The History Project model replicated in regions facing generational conflict driven by intolerance bred in the classroom.
Ayyaz Ahmad and Qasim Aslam cofounded The History Project Society, an initiative that innovates the way history is taught by highlighting the biases inculcated through textbook narratives that breed a specific brand of patriotism and often perpetuate conflict.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 16.
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