Caren Stelson



for all

“All Real Living is Meeting“
Meet Kevin McGee

Philosopher Martin Buber has a quote I admire: “All real liv­ing is meet­ing.” Lately, I’ve tak­en that quote to heart and have start­ed ask­ing col­leagues for inten­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions around top­ics we both believe are impor­tant. Last week, I asked Eden Prairie teacher Kevin McGee if we could go out to din­ner and talk about some­thing Kevin knows a great deal about: cre­at­ing cul­tures of peace in schools.

Kevin McGee

Kevin and I serve on the Board of World Citizen, a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion with a mis­sion to “empow­er com­mu­ni­ties to edu­cate for a just and peace­ful world.” Many orga­ni­za­tions that belong to World Citizen are schools. When I asked Kevin to share what he has learned about explor­ing peace in the class­room, I had no idea how deep and wide our con­ver­sa­tion would go. Honestly, I was unpre­pared to absorb all that Kevin has stud­ied and explored over his 30 years as an edu­ca­tor. Here’s my effort to summarize:

Kevin has worn many hats over his pro­fes­sion­al years in edu­ca­tion. These days Kevin is an Instructional Coach in Minnesota’s Eden Prairie School District, help­ing class­room teach­ers set cul­tur­al­ly respon­sive aca­d­e­m­ic and social goals for their stu­dents. He is also an adjunct instruc­tor at Hamline University in St. Paul, teach­ing ele­men­tary read­ing meth­ods with a focus on crit­i­cal lit­er­a­cy. Lift up Kevin’s title as Instructional Coach and Hamline Instructor and you will see his deep tap root of expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge about teach­ing peace—and liv­ing it.


Kevin began our dis­cus­sion with his study of the Brazilian social jus­tice edu­ca­tor, Paolo Freire and his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Frere’s work with adult illit­er­ate stu­dents helped him con­struct his view of “Critical Pedagogy,” that defines teach­ing, not as a neu­tral endeav­or, but as an inher­ent­ly polit­i­cal act that acknowl­edges social jus­tice, democ­ra­cy, and human rights are bound up in col­lab­o­ra­tive and active learn­ing and teach­ing. This life-long, active, reflec­tive, crit­i­cal approach to learn­ing even­tu­al­ly leads to the trans­for­ma­tion of soci­ety. Freire writes in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Problem-posing edu­ca­tion affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming.”

Given Kevin’s stud­ies, I won­dered what kind of an effect one teacher can have on the deep struc­ture of a sub­ur­ban, middle-class school dis­trict? Kevin’s response remind­ed me of Margaret Meads’ famous quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thought­ful, com­mit­ted cit­i­zens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” In 2003, Kevin and a small group of teach­ers, with the principal’s sup­port, want­ed to delve deeply into the emo­tion­al and social needs of chil­dren to cre­ate peace­ful envi­ron­ments in which stu­dents can learn. The group of teach­ers decid­ed they would call them­selves “The Peace Committee.”


Teachers asked: What new tools do we need in our tool box? What uni­fies us? How do we strug­gle togeth­er? How do we appre­ci­ate and acknowl­edge everyone—not just teachers—who works hard to make the school a safe place to learn and grow? How do we ded­i­cate and re-dedicate our­selves to peace? What is our pur­pose as edu­ca­tors? Kevin writes in his pur­pose state­ment: “Our stu­dents deserve teach­ers who can ensure that all stu­dents will excel aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly while devel­op­ing the capac­i­ty to become change agents for peace and justice.”


As school dis­tricts around the coun­try change with new demo­graph­ics, polit­i­cal pres­sures, new admin­is­tra­tions, new goals and expec­ta­tions, path­ways to peace in the schools change, too. No approach has all the answers. Kevin spoke of explor­ing the strengths of pro­grams his school or entire dis­trict embraced—World Citizen, Responsive Classroom, National Urban Alliance, Restorative Justice, SEED, the Pacific Education Group, PBIS (Positive Behavior, Interventions and Support), Second Step, and Yoga Calm. What I sensed from Kevin was this: Whether a sin­gle pro­gram ful­ly suc­ceeds in cre­at­ing a cul­ture of peace in class­rooms is not the ques­tion. What mat­ters most is progress toward the goal. Giving up is not an option.


I reached out to Kevin one more time to ask if he would sum­ma­rize his school district’s suc­cess in cre­at­ing cul­tures of peace in the class­room and encour­ag­ing stu­dent involve­ment out­side the school. In a recent email, Kevin wrote:

The aspect of help­ing stu­dents devel­op the habits of mind, knowl­edge, and skills to address social jus­tice issues effec­tive­ly, to be change agents, to address socio-political issues…to active­ly work for peace and jus­tice out­side of school is a hard­er ques­tion to address…something that is hard­er for us as a teach­ing com­mu­ni­ty is to have com­mon goals because of the diver­si­ty of per­spec­tives and beliefs that we hold and what we believe is the goal of pub­lic education.…I think the need has been con­stant and the desire to address the needs is constant—but how we address those needs evolves and is re-imagined over time.

I could have spent hours talk­ing to Kevin about learn­ing, teach­ing, and liv­ing in the pur­suit of peace. We nev­er had enough time to touch on his expe­ri­ence in the Peace Corp teach­ing in Liberia, or his teach­ing in Morocco and Ecuador, or his two-year hia­tus teach­ing in India. Still, I am grate­ful for the hour-and-a-half we shared togeth­er explor­ing a sub­ject we know is impor­tant. Martin Buber was right, “All real liv­ing is meeting.”


Links to pro­grams men­tioned by Kevin McGee to advance a cul­ture of peace in schools:

National Urban Alliance

Pacific Education Group

Paolo Freire


Responsive Classroom

Restorative Justice

Second Step


World Citizen

Yoga Calm

(Several of the images used in this arti­cle are from World Citizen’s peacesites.org. Pull quote designs are orig­i­nal content.)

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