Urban living and the upheavals of the twentieth century are causing fractures in local and global societies.  The common language of recognised values, customs, and beliefs in human societies around the world has broken down, and as a result each society is facing a variety of conflicts.  In this Expert Comment, Christine de Marcellus Vollmer analyses the situation and offers a practical solution: a school programme called Alive to the World, designed by an international team of experts and already successfully implemented in Latin America, Europe, and Korea.  Vollmer argues that educational programmes focusing on stories and positive role models, providing students with a variety of options and perspectives through which to face their own difficult decisions and to understand the difficulties others face, is more effective than imposing right and wrong answers to particular questions.  She argues that all children and adolescents want to know how to do the right thing, and a key part of addressing and preventing conflict is to provide them with the skills and values they need to achieve consensus and sustain peace.

Executive Summary

Urban living and the upheavals of the twentieth century are causing fractures in local and global societies.  The common language of recognised values, customs, and beliefs – which, although frequently clashing in the past, had common roots in the survival modes of all peoples – has broken down, and individualism and discord are taking its place. The future of society in each part of the globe is threatened, each in its own way, by the abandonment of recognised codes of behaviour.

In order to give human societies once again the cohesion that is sometimes called social capital, the new generations, today confused and seduced by rival ideologies and competing commercial urgings, need a firm grounding in the logic of life.  This education should span childhood and adolescence and should present, in a readily understood way, the equal dignity of all persons and the path to true integrity.

To meet this need, an international, interdisciplinary group has designed a programme for schools called Alive to the World, which is based upon well-established anthropological, psychological, and pedagogical foundations, including the latest knowledge of the stages of brain development.  It is delivered through the vehicle of a fun, exciting story of a group of girls and boys growing up from kindergarten to the last year of high school.  The 13 student texts have 35 chapters each, covering one hour per week throughout the school year, and 13 teacher guides, which offer the teacher information and ideas for activities and discussion for each lesson.  This scientifically conceived programme is growing rapidly in Latin America, Europe, and Korea due to its adaptability to different cultures, and it has been kept free of all religious, ideological, and political bias.

Noteworthy results include the calming and harmonising effect of this programme in schools where violence and bullying have been problematic. Seeing life situations through the eyes of the characters in the book allows the students to see for themselves a rich variety of options with which to face their own particular difficulties, fostering a logical and just vision while learning to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and those of others.

Alive to the World has been licenced to groups in 22 countries in eight languages on four continents thus far.

Practical/Policy Recommendations:

  • All children and adolescents want to know how to do the right thing.
  • All children and adolescents prize their own privacy and inner thoughts.
  • Rebellion is a miscarriage of the natural and positive desire to be unique.
  • All children and adolescents can be successfully reached through stories with credible and admirable role models in situations that appeal to their imaginations.
  • The human brain is built for logical reasoning, but this, like any other skill, must be learnt.
  • It is much more effective to allow positive answers to difficult choices to be thought through than to impose ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers.
  • Children or adolescents who suffer lack of love need stories to provide the adult role models they crave.
  • The feeling of rejection by the peer group can become a feeling of self-confidence if it is correctly mediated through positive role models in stories.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the original author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views and opinions of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, its co-founders, or its staff members.

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Christine de Marcellus de Vollmer is the founder and president of the Alliance for the Family. She is also the founder and president of the Latin American Alliance for the Family. Mrs Vollmer has been a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family for over 15 years and she is a founding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. She has served as a member of the delegation of the Holy See to the United Nations from 1990-1995. As president of the World Organization for the Family and member of the World Congress of Families Planning Committees, Mrs. Vollmer has organized conferences on the family all over Europe and Latin America. In April 2010, Mrs. Vollmer was awarded with the Global Leadership Award, a recognition for her impact on the international pro-family movement and the unifying element between religious groups in the defense of the natural family. Since 1984, within the Alliance for the Family, a team headed by Christine Vollmer has developed a new pedagogy to effectively teach children and young people the necessary values, virtues and skills for successful married and family life. This ground-breaking new pedagogy, centered on the Alive to the World curriculum, is now international and welcomed by people of all faiths.