“For its first 35 years, P.E.A.C.E. was known as CEASE, Concerned Educators Allied for a Safe Environment.”
The seeds of CEASE were sown by Peggy Schirmer and a number of early childhood educators who understood that safe environments for children depend on adult political decisions. It was 1979. There was the danger of nuclear war. There was the nuclear freeze movement. There was to be a mock bombing exercise near a childcare center in Massachusetts. Peggy developed a slideshow, Children of Hiroshima. It was a catalyst for action.
Peggy said, “Doctors are concerned about the effects of radiation on kids.” She said, “I am concerned about children’s fears – how it affects their behavior.” She, and others, wanted NAEYC to address these issues.
And so it was that CEASE was born – its quest – to bring social and historical issues affecting environments for children to the NAEYC membership. Workshops conceived by Peggy and others, such as Nuclear Radiation: Our Children’s Legacy; such as Nuclear Anxiety: Ways of Responding to Children’s Fears of the Bomb, drew many NAEYC members with like concerns. Lois Clark came to NAEYC as a delegate from Head Start each year and found CEASE. Mary Daniels, school psychologist, found CEASE a “base for advocacy.” Many NAEYC members began to look for the CEASE workshops. CEASE became an opportunity to network; a place for renewal of energy.
To plan ahead, CEASE met once a year in Cambridge, MA. Peggy’s husband, Boone, often joined the discussions. A longtime activist, a historian with talent for storytelling, his humor was welcomed when the group felt the weight of its serious concerns.
The CEASE newsletter, begun in 1981, continues. Information about candidates for the Board. Input from members around the country. Workshops to look for. Fliers designed to show that U.S. military budgets are swollen with money while money for human services children, families and healthcare are a much smaller piece of the pie. “This is wrong,” Peggy said, “We must redirect national priorities.” For Peggy, being and working with children meant being an activist. In 1996 a CEASE workshop titled Overcoming Violence: Looking at History, Teaching Today, Transforming Tomorrow, featured the historian, Howard Zinn. At the end of this workshop, a woman stood up and said, “Now I know why I came to NAEYC.”
Peggy was a visionary. Soft spoken, thoughtful and persistent she went before the NAEYC Board every year calling for the leadership to address issues of peace and justice. A noisy room grew quiet when she came to the microphone. Folks knew that she meant business. During the Gulf War, Peggy, the peace advocate, testifying before the Board, read a letter from a child written to the President. “Mr. President, we are learning to use our words.”
Each year we have gathered together twice a year: Once at the annual NAEYC Conference, and once at our Annual Leadership Retreat. At the NAEYC Conferences we have sponsored Workshops and Seminars. See our upcoming events.
Workshops evolve – on violence, war play, war toys, media, environmental issues, racism, gender issues. Unique, inspirational, thought provoking – workshops such as, Listening to Understand Violence: from the Voices of Youth, a panel joined by two gang members from Atlanta.
Seminars with well-known panel members, authors and teachers are informational. They call for action. Some members are authors such as Susan Hopkins, Hearing Everyone’s Voice; Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Diane Levin, and others.
Peace Awards have been given by CEASE since 1985, annually at the NAEYC National Conference to an individual or group dedicated to creating a safe and healthy world for children.
Peggy Schirmer died in 2004. After the memorial service CEASE folks gathered together making a commitment to continue her legacy. There is now CEASE East and CEASE West. There are Peace Camps for children. Spin offs are many. There is good reason to celebrate 30 years of CEASE.
At the 2009 NAEYC Conference a series of binders were prepared to commemorate CEASE’s thirtieth birthday, containing materials including pictures, in chronological order, recording CEASE’s activities over its first thirty years. These binders will be available for perusal at future CEASE events at NAEYC, or on request by historians.
One of our strongest members over the years, Chris Lamm, died in 2014, leaving us legacies of action, the peace camps she started, her former student activists, and other resources on which we continue to depend. At its 2014 Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas, CEASE changed its name to P.E.A.C.E, Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere. In addition, we changed our purposes and our activities to align with the new focus.
by Craig Simpson and Sunny Wallick, one of the founders of CEASE