The Liberian BioCognetic Education program about understanding the cause and effect of conditioned thinking that was successfully taught to the children of war in the Liberian Project was based on Dr. Terrence Webster-Doyle's book and curricula Why Is Everybody Always Picking On Us? Understanding the Roots of Prejudice.
There have been many theories put forward as causes of the Liberian civil war — including unemployment, abuse of human rights, political patronage, illiteracy, lack of development and tribalism, among others. While it is true that all of these factors may have contributed, at the heart of the Liberian conflict — as with all global conflicts — is psychological conditioning, the fundamental cause of human conflict."
From Brave New Child
These children were raised in war; they know nothing else.
Their teacher, Marvin Davis, having had to flee Liberia because his life was in danger came back to teach the children of this war torn country about what caused the war they just had gone through. Putting his own life on the line, and with his father having died in the war, he decided that he had to help these young people to understand and resolve conflict nonviolently lest there be another and perhaps worst civil war out of the ashes of the recent one.
Searching the Internet for peace educating organizations that would help him he found the Atrium Society USA. Out of this search he began a friendship with the distinguished child peace educators Terrence and Jean Webster-Doyle and through their Youth Peace Literacy Program received the training and materials in their internationally acclaimed, award winning peace educating programs to do what he wanted in Liberia.
Working together as a team the three of them helped establish the Common Ground Society Peace School of Liberia. It was at this point they decided that Marvin should teach the children the Atrium curricula Why Is Everybody Always Picking On Us – Understanding the Roots of Prejudice to see if this program could have any effect on the conditioned views of these children who knew nothing but war.
Marvin Davis with the original students from the Common Ground Society's peace education after-school program in Buchanan, Liberia.
When you read these 20 Lessons Marvin Davis has sent back to the Webster-Doyles in the form of letters you will see what can happen if young people are taught to understand conditioned, prejudicial thinking that has time and time again lead us into war. These Lessons demonstrate that no matter how conditioned one is to violent behavior, and these children of Liberia are perhaps the most severe cases one can imagine, that they can be liberated from that habitual mindset.
And if they can, so can all children who face conflict daily – from bullying on the playground to bullying on the battlefield.
We asked Marvin Davis of the Common Ground Society Peace school to let us know what some of the children had learned now that they had attended the after school program. Considering that these children grew up in war, that that was all they knew about how people related to each other, the following comments are a very promising sign that even these young people raised in war can go beyond that conditioned mindset with the right education. Whereas before all they knew was one way of relating to each other now they have been shown that there is another way, one that does not lead to conflict but to peace.
Terrence and Jean Webster-Doyle
Marvin Davis: I held an interview with four of our students who recently finished the Peace School. The interview was about the hope for Liberia, what they envisaged the country to be in the coming years and will there be lasting peace, or do they see another war in the making? The basis for the interview was to see how the curriculum on prejudice affected their outlook now.
The students include Cindy Reeves, John Pius Onumah, Shad Whypaly and Julia Gbearr:
Cindy: “The country is going to be good. I am very sure things are going to be all right for us.”
John Pius: “I think things will be okay. The other day my father told me that they have electricity in some parts of Monrovia now. In other parts, people are drinking pipe borne water. And many children don’t have to walk miles to get water because they are building hand pumps in the communities.”
Shad: “The country will be fine. Did you hear that they are going to start to fix the road from Buchanan to Monrovia? I am sure you saw the young people marching on Tubman Street for a college to be built in Buchanan. Maybe by the time I am finished with high school I will continue my college education right here in Buchanan.”
Julia: “For many years my father could not get a job. He recently got employed with Mittal Steel. For me things are going to be good again. When many parents get a job they will be able to look after the children well.”
Cindy: “It is hard to tell but for me I am not going to fight a war. Nobody will make me fight a war, because I know war is evil. Right now I am helping young people like myself to understand that confusion is not good. The way I see it many children will not want to fight a war again especially when they come to think of what happened here.”
John Pius: “For me I can say no. No one will fight a war again. War is bad. You can see everybody is talking about peace, because peace is better than any war. If we have peace, we can do those things we want, go to school, look for a job, travel and have our own families. I will not fight. I know why people fight; I know what stops people from having peace. So others will fight, well that is it but for me John Pius, I will never fight and will help to stop people from fighting.”
Shad: “Others may want to fight but for me I will never fight. What is the use for fighting? I am a different person now and I hope many children will understand that fighting a war is wrong. We should settle our problems without fighting. The way things are now, it is going to be hard to fight again. Everybody is doing something now because peace is here."
Julia: “People will have small misunderstandings here and there. But I don’t think people will fight war again. What we must learn now is to help people settle differences without fighting again. If we can settle our small differences, then we will not have big palavers that can bring wars.”
Cindy: “The peace school has helped me in many ways. For example I used to act according to how people wanted me. If people want me to fight back, I just did it to please them. Now I have a very strong mind. I think clearly before I act. Nobody makes me to do what they want. The other day, some girls were mocking me. You know I am tall and lean. So they were saying that I am dry because I don’t eat good food. They wanted me to stand up and make palaver and finally fight. I just walked away. I knew what they were saying was false. I eat good food and my mother says she used to be thin like me but as she grew she added more weight. So whenever I have to make a choice I used my mind. The peace school helped to make my mind strong.”
John Pius: “The peace school is very good place. It is different from a real school where you learn English and Mathematics. The peace school has helped me to make decisions based on facts and not hearsay. Before I agree with someone about something I find out the truth for myself. In the peace school we learn that not knowing the facts and making a decision can lead to conflict. It is true. I am prefect of my class and one day our teacher left the cupboard key with me. My friends had their test paper in the cupboard. All of them knew. A boy in the class came running to tell me that the teacher wanted me to divide the test papers and I said no. I asked him many questions and when he could not answer I knew he was lying. For example, I said where did you see the teacher? When did you see him? Why did he want me to divide the papers when he was coming right back to class. When he failed to give me answers I just told him No. I never had all the facts; I wanted to hear my teacher’s side of the story.”
Shad: “The peace school has helped me to learn not to have bad feelings about others without knowing them. For instance when someone says, “John is a bad boy”, I will not agree with the person. I will want to know if the John is really bad. I will try to know John myself. I learned in the peace school that people sometimes say bad things about others only because they are different. Maybe the person says John is bad because he comes from a different tribe, school, or church. We sometimes hate because we feel others are different from us. To me we are all human beings, and there is no need to treat other people bad because they are different from us. This can create confusion, hate and war.”
Julia: “One big lesson I have learned from the peace school is learning to put up with people. I used to get vexed and hate someone if they did not act the way I wanted them to behave. I stop my friendship with many girls because they did not want to behave my way. The peace school has taught me to understand that we should not hate others because they want to be themselves. No one has all the right ideas about how to live. We all have different ideas about life so we must learn to live with others even if they have different ideas. Sometimes I used to have ideas about certain girls because of where they come from or the school they attend. For example, my friend Marie is a Bassa girl but she loves red so I used to say to her if you don’t change your red dress, I am not walking with you. Why? I used to believe that only Kpelle girls should wear red dresses. From my peace school I know this was a conditioned attitude. Color has nothing to do with a person, we are all human beings no matter what color we like.”
Cindy: “Before I started the peace school I used to always wish to be a very huge person. I wanted to be strong so that I could just pay back others when they did something bad to me. But most importantly, I wanted to use my body to bully people. I am surprised I don't think like that anymore. Even though I am not big now I can use my head to solve many problems, which would require a big body.”
John Pius: "Like Cindy, I hated being a small boy. Other children used to call me names and all I wanted was to beat them up. I learned new things in the peace school. Even though I am small I have learned that you don't have to fight physically to beat someone; you can also win by using your mind. Now I don't worry about my body size too much.”
Shad: “Many of the things people fight for are not the truth. I used to fight when anyone says something against me. Now I understand that most of the times what people say are how they feel and think. And their thinking has to do with how they learn things in life. So when someone says something against my tribe, for instance calling me stupid because I am a Kpelle boy, I just walk away. I don't blame the person because maybe this is all the person has been taught about Kpelle people. I know that I am not stupid, so why fight someone for something that is not true.”
Julia: “For me I believe that one thing that can cause war is carrying false information from one person to another. And many people don't try to find out the truth. They accept anything people tell them. I don’t want to be someone like that again and I am happy that I went to the peace school. If you bring me gossip, I ask you where did you hear that. Who told you? Did you find out the truth yourself? These questions make people to stop gossiping. I want to be like Sherlock Homes, our detective in peace school.”
Since publishing Brave New Child we have recently discovered after further research what lies under psychological conditioning in the brain's primitive biological system that we feel is the fundamental structure that creates the destructive type of thinking and we want to share this you here. It concerns the Liberian holocaust that these children survived, what could now be called "genetic genocide."
Briefly what was discovered, that could provide a completely new paradigm for peace education, is that even though the Liberian 15-year civil war seemed on the surface to be caused by decades of antagonistic ethnocentric, tribalism was instead at the root, caused by a far deeper compulsion. After carrying out a test case of twenty former child combatants' post-war behavior for five years in Buchanan, just after the war's end, the book Brave New Child - Liberating the Children of Liberia and the World, shows us that the fundamental cause of the war was due to a neurological instinctual malfunction in the brains of these young warriors.
The Atrium research studies have put forward the notion that these young combatants' brains had been thoroughly programmed to fight people they were told were their enemies because of years of political and economic propaganda, but in reality there was a far deeper biological primitive impulse already inbuilt into their brains, as it is with all participants driven to war. This drive has been rooted for eons in the primeval human brain being hardwired for war as a genetically programmed survival instinct - but it was maladaptive and was therefore paradoxically preventing survival - and that was the cause of the conflict.
What this evidence continues to demonstrate, according the Atrium Youth Peace Literacy programs that were used, is that the Liberian war's cause is analogous to a mechanical defect in our computer-programmed brains - in essence, a short circuit, which keeps on creating conflict without being aware that it's doing it. Since we are ignorant of this malfunction in the primitive old brain that causes conflict because it is trying to survive in this mistaken way, war is no one's fault. No one is to blame. There's no reason for revenge. It's just a biological error in the old brain that we are unaware of. It is a disturbing dysfunctional error in how we keep struggling towards, and yet preventing, our own survival. Even though we are not to blame, we are responsible to understand the implications of this and to educate our children as to the consequences of what this could mean, individually and socially.