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Peace gets a piece of the action

There are no harsh colours, toy guns or televisions at the Kennedy Child-care Centre near Chicago, writes Jon Marcus. Classical music wafts from speakers and students are taught to solve disputes with words, not fists. This month, they planted tulips.

Chicago primary schools and child-care centres are fashioning themselves as havens from violence, both real and as portrayed on television and in video games and films. Their grassroots campaign, which has become known as the "peace curriculum", will be a subject of the National Association for the Education of Young Children annual conference in November.

"Children look to us to make the world safe for them," said Charlene Ackerman, director of Kennedy Child-care and one of the originators of the peace curriculum. "Every child deserves a peaceful world."

Most American schools have failed to provide a refuge. Violence in schools has increased significantly over the past five years in 40 per cent of 700 cities and towns surveyed by the National League of Cities. In the past two years, there were 107 suicides and murders in and around US schools. Nearly 4, 000 weapons were seized from New York City students last year.

"The rates of violence are higher in the inner cities, but no community is safe from violence," said Barbara Willer, spokeswoman for the primary schools association. The peace curriculum, she said, "not only reflects the growing incidence of violence, but recognises that there are strategies for schools and teachers to respond".

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