Beatrix Hamburg, David Hamburg

Learning to Live Together, Part II

VTR Date: July 7, 2004

Beatrix and David Hamburg discuss the threats humans pose to each other.


GUESTS: Beatrix A. Hamburg, M.D.
and David A. Hamburg, M.D.
VTR: 07/07/04

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind … and again today my guests are friends and scholars who firmly believe that if we mortals can be taught to hate … and then generation after generation to die in violent conflict one with the other … we can learn to live together, too.

Indeed, that is the title of their incisive new study just published by Oxford University Press: Learning To Live Together, by medical doctors David A. Hamburg, President Emeritus of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Beatrix A. Hamburg, immediate past President of the William T. Grant Foundation.

The Hamburgs are now Co-Directors, Social Medicine and Public Policy at Cornell Medical College.

Now they write in this new book that “The centuries of history and millennia of prehistory indicate the profound and pervasive nature of human slaughter.

They write that “From small societies to vast nations, from one era to another, we see humans’ inhumanity and cruelty to each other.

And they add, ” … the threat to human survival does not come from predators or dangerous forces of nature, but from other humans.”

Well, of course, we well know that we have the ability now not only to destroy all those we perceive as our most immediate enemies … but all of mankind as well.

So what in the world … I asked Betty and David Hamburg last time … leads them even to dream that we can instead learn to live together?

This time I want to ask my guests, what precisely are the very specific things we can do — day in, day out — every day as parents, teachers, business men and women … indeed, as just plain citizens … to realize the impossible dream of living together in peace, not conflict. Is that fair to go from the largely ideological and intellectual to this practical question of what we can do?

DAVID A. HAMBURG: Not only fair, but I think very desirable actually. You know we, we said the scary stuff last time about the growing destructive power of humanity and the growing power for incitement of hatred and violence and all of that. And it’s all true. And thousands of hate schools scattered across many countries in the world today, we’ve been learning in recent months how that is.

On the other hand, there are thousands of schools that I might characterize as “learning to live together schools”. They’re in different places. The hate schools are in very repressive societies and the “learning to live together schools” are in democracies. A lot of them in the US, Europe, Canada, Japan, so forth.

And maybe we ought to focus on schools today because all the kids are there; there is a fundamental advantage. That’s one reason why Betty’s worked so much in and around the schools over many years. They are there. They’re there for a considerable chunk of time and you have a chance to teach them something about learning to live together.

Let me give you one example and then I’ll stop for the moment. I’ve been very fond of an approach called “cooperative learning” which has been pushed with quite a lot of research at places like Stanford and Johns Hopkins over 20, 25 years. Most commonly the cooperative learning is in the middle grade schools, it can be earlier, it can be later. It’s, it’s an interesting … our whole approach is you want developmentally appropriate learning to learn to live together from young childhood to elementary to high school to college and in the end I’d like to say something about the link into universities and high schools, but cooperative learning instead of having a standard lecture … sort of highly competitive lecture situation where you take your notes and you memorize it and you feed it back … I’m exaggerating … making a caricature …

HEFFNER: Not too much.


DAVID A. HAMBURG: … But, ahmm, instead of that you, you take a group of four or five, six kids organized heterogeneously … different social backgrounds, you put them together and they work, say, on mathematics. And all the work that’s been done on mathematics because the challenge was if they could do well in math, academically, they could probably do well in anything academically and one wanted to see if they would do okay academically because that was important to go along with the interpersonal benefits that, that were being sought in this approach.

So they helped each other and in some times they get their grade ultimately for what the group does and sometimes they get it partly for the group and partly for individual performance, but they do learn everybody can be good at some thing, they learn to help each other in the process of solving the problem, it’s a kind of a joint problem solving activity, day in and day out.

And the research shows not only that they do well academically, but they tend, for example, to make more cross-group friendships than other groups not so exposed, like more Black-White friendships, more Brown-White friendships, more Brown-Blacks, whatever you like. By religion. By ethnicity. More cross-group, so you might say somewhat non-traditional cross group friendships emerge from these groups as well as good academic performance.

Now that taps into a very fundamental concept about contact between groups that may have been … at least suspicious and perhaps even adversarial. There’s a whole approach of contact which basically says that we need to find ways in which we bring together people who have been strangers, they’re hostile to each other, under favorable conditions and those have been delineated by research … and, and then put that into practice.

And this is one example of taking the contact approach, there are favorable conditions there, authority is supporting it … they’re on an equal basis, that’s very important … they have a task to do that has a tangible outcome from which all of them benefits … that’s very important … those are all favorable conditions under which contact really benefits human relationships. So that to me is a nice example of, of what the schools can do and, and how research can guide the shaping of a constructive program that yields good results.

HEFFNER: You know, I don’t want to make trouble in this family …


HEFFNER: But, Betty, I want, I want to ask you … I said we were going to be very practical …


HEFFNER: Talk about what we can do, as teachers …


HEFFNER: Administrators.


HEFFNER: Parents. I had the feeling as I listened to your dear husband that he’s talking about something that is the ideal, but does not relate to what our present American school system can do. Am I wrong? I hope I am.

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: You’re wrong and you’re right. And I think that it, you know, points out the fundamental need for us to step back and review our school system. Are we now carrying out the traditional role for schools, which is to prepare our young people to meet the challenges and be prepared to have the, you know, skills and talents to perform effectively in the society as a worker; as a parent; as a citizen. And somebody was making a joke, but it’s not too far off, that if … what was his name … were to come back … from Sleepy Hollow … oh, yeah, Rip Van Winkle …

DAVID A. HAMBURG: Oh, oh, oh … right.

HEFFNER: Rip Van Winkle.

HAMBURG: If Rip Van Winkle were to wake up today the only thing he’s recognize are the schools. [Laughter]

HEFFNER: You mean their as bad?

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: No, they have not changed, they have not changed. And the fact is in their day they were not bad; they were, in fact, meeting the needs of that day. But that’s been, you know, a hundred years ago.

HEFFNER: But you and David both feel that the schools today could, if we would, as a society …


HEFFNER: … meet these needs.

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: … and schools are doing it. And I think that it’s very important that we ask ourselves what are the … what are the goals of the education today? What is the context that these kids are going to go into? It’s going to be a neighborhood, a classroom, a work place, a nation of great diversity, of all kinds of other nationalities and one has to adapt to that. It’s a situation in which the competencies, the attitudes about how you are going to relate to others, the social skills and the techniques and competencies … used to be taught at home. And nowadays nobody’s home.

HEFFNER: Latchkey children.

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: The latchkey children and the parents have to take, you know, two jobs to keep going. What’s more, home is often a place in a neighborhood which has, in the less advantageous areas, perhaps risk and danger, lack of resources where the children can go to, you know, get help and guidance, role models, or in the affluent suburbs, it’s very antiseptic … there, there isn’t this kind of … running to your neighbor’s house or apartment or playing stick ball in the street. You never see anyone playing stickball in the street very much anymore … if at all. [Laughter]

But, it raises the question who, where are they going to learn these social competencies, socialization values and attitudes and the skills that they’re going to need in much more intensively in this new global village that we live in with a lot more complexity in every way.

And somebody’s got to do it. And I think that, as David pointed out, school is where the kids are.

HEFFNER: What about, though, and I don’t mean to be the negative one … honest to god, I don’t mean that. But I’ve heard so many teachers complain about having the burdens of contemporary life heaped upon them and that they don’t feel qualified to deal as you want them to deal, with children whose parents are working.

DAVID A. HAMBURG: Well, this is a general point. The teachers are at the center of any kind of innovation. And the grants we made at Carnegie and the grants Betty made at W. Grant Foundation heavily emphasized getting teachers prepared … a while back it was to use computers in the classroom, you know, but, but whatever is an innovation that’s going to be important, that teachers have to be prepared first, intellectually and, and supported in a kind of social system that says what you’re doing is important and we, we back you in it and if you make mistakes, you learned from the mistakes and get better and so on. And that, that is central to all these innovations, whether they’re cognitive or emotion or whatever they are. Now, on your question …

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: Well, I just want to add a little to that if I could.


BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: One of the important aspects of this kind of education for peace, which is education for resilience and adaptability … I mean that’s what it is basically … is very helpful to the teachers. I am a firm believer that there’s more that has to be learned to day than ever before, and teaching is more challenging because of the competition of TV and of computers, and what not. You know making … making it interesting is harder than it used to be, when, when teaching … when you know, school was the only place you ever learned about the world and new exciting things.

But in the programs which are the most completely developed and adapted, it’s been discovered that … and the teacher training is a part of the program … and at a more advanced stage, maybe the principals, everybody in the whole school … but in any case, the task of the teachers has been made immeasurably more difficult because of the frictions, the disruptive behavior in the classroom and at worse, the true violence in the schools.

And so these kinds of programs are highly desirable and are being adopted because the teachers feel less burdened. They feel much more in control and the evidence is that the students are learning more and this approach focuses from, from kindergarten straight through the, you know, 12th grade on, in developmentally appropriate ways teaching incrementally, additively over, over time … the teachers as well as the students … social competencies; listening skills, a communications skills, emotional self-regulation and respect for others.

In kindergarten, it’s also being done … they learn that they don’t need to have a meltdown if they can’t have what they want. They need to take turns, they need to listen to what the teacher says and … so that …but as you move developmentally, it gets more and more … complex. And the social competencies are being taught and are being welcomed.

And actually I started a program in about ’69 or ’70 called “Peer Counseling” in which we were teaching what I then called and still I think is an appropriate term … “Life Skills”. And I called it “peer counseling” because as a psychiatrist I didn’t want to imply that these children …this was at the junior high level which is a very difficult sector of the, of the learning experience … I didn’t want them to feel we were calling them basket cases.

But I wanted them to learn the social competencies, to acquire an information base to develop a value system which is human values, decency, etc. and to have a way to practice them. And this has been expanded, I think, in a lot of this education for peace.

HEFFNER: Through what vehicles? What are the vehicles that you see for making these changes?

DAVID A. HAMBURG: Let me mention one that I think has great potential and ones that happen to really engage both Betty and me over decades. And that is the relationship between universities and high schools. Or the relationship between universities and middle grade schools.

We, we sort of took the position that no university, however prestigious is entitled to respect unless it can demonstrate it has strong ties with a set of high schools or middle grade schools in its geographic area.

Another current vision … of course, they can make as they help with curriculum material in the sciences and mathematics or whatever field … I’ll give you an example in this field that is very appealing to me.

There’s an outfit at Stanford University called “SPIE” (Stanford Program on International Education) and they do a lot of different things relying on Stanford faculty and other expert scholars on international matters and they work with high school teachers … mostly in California, but when they can, they reach beyond California … and, it gives the teachers a sense of belonging to the scientific community or belonging to the higher education community, but it also helps in getting the content prepared in realistic ways that the teachers are pretty sure will be meaningful to the students.

Now, for instance, SPIE did a whole, a major unit, for high schools on the Carnegie Commission on preventing deadly conflict … that Cyrus Vance and I co-chaired some years ago. It’s preventing deadly conflict and they have translated a very substantial content about a number of political and economic and military, social considerations that go into preventing deadly conflict that will some day, somehow have that affect and where sometimes already … that affect has occurred.

So these students with the help of the University faculty … you get a kind of a synergistic relation between the university and high school over the long term and material of the highest caliber that is available and up-dated from time to time. And that is a model which we’ve worked a lot in math and science. Particularly biological science …

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: Well, I think that’s one model, but it’s possible and wherever you, you can engage a community and the university, particularly you should. But most of these are direct negotiations with the school … where curriculum often deriving out of the SPIE kinds of programs and other programs that have studied the Holocaust and, you know, things like that.

They engage … you have to have the Superintendent of the schools and the principals and so forth on board … but a curriculum is developed and it is taught and initially it’s often taught as an elective. But the value of it becomes so clear so quickly that it becomes incorporated into the, the required curriculum of the school and the youngsters, as you can tell from listening what David just described to us … that it can be integrated into the academic program and, and at best, it is.

But there are explicit skills that you really do want to teach that are in the curriculum about decision making; about conflict resolution and, you know, strategies and mediation and negotiation …

HEFFNER: Skills to teach the students or the teachers?

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: Both. Both. And that’s the advantage. One can train the teachers by using the curriculum that you will also use with the students and that has the double advantage that the teachers are very well acquainted with the goals and, and the techniques, but they personally benefit from these … from explicit teaching and listening skills in, you know, communications skills … decision making and, you know, critical thinking.

HEFFNER: Is there any indication that the governmental agencies charged with licensing teachers have taken to what you two are suggesting here?

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: Well many of the schools have had mandates that they must teach conflict resolution …

HEFFNER: Mmmhmm.

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: … and reduction of violence because of the amount of turmoil … the disruptiveness … the bullying … and at worst, of course, the shootings. And they are eager to have meaningful evidence based tested programs in the schools. And as I mentioned, once they’re in the schools, the level of disruptive behavior that takes away constructive teaching time is, is sharply reduced. The academic achievement of the kids … goes up. And the general climate of the classroom is much more constructive.

HEFFNER: And what about, in the couple of minutes remaining … what about us, as grandparents? What about us years ago when we were parents?

DAVID A. HAMBURG: I think it’s extremely important. This is really a life span approach and, and we try, in the book, to deal to some extent with adult education. A nice example provided by a long-standing, well respected, non-governmental organization …the Foreign Policy Association … is very interesting here. They have … they’re associated with world Affairs councils around the country, in many cities in the country. They rely a lot on volunteers, they draw in a lot of intelligent adults in the community that are curious about what’s happening in the world. They do connect with colleges and now they’re connecting more with high schools as well.

So this is kind of a late adolescent, young adult, mid-life adult mix … a very interesting mix. Each year they have some independent, high respected scholars formulate a set of critical questions … six, seven and eight critical question for foreign policy in the next few years. And those are all discussed in these different parts of the country. And then some very able scholars make up a synthesis. Try to make an intelligible, incredible synthesis of what it is that has come about in discussions of these critical questions throughout the country. And I met with a group of those people who run those community … world affairs councils recently and I was very impressed by their sophistication .. even those who came from modest backgrounds … some of them from small towns, with minimal resources … but they knew a lot about world affairs and they thought critically about world affairs and they understood about paths to peace.

I mean not every path to peace, but a lot. So I think, you know, the world is in such a deep hole with respect to the prospects for peace that you have to think about covering the whole life span.

HEFFNER: Do you think that that fact of the killing fields that you’ve written about and about the violence in the schools that you’ve written about, do you think that is what is transforming us, perhaps, into a people who are more concerned …

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: Oh, definitely.

HEFFNER: … without bringing ourselves to an abrupt end?

BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: Yeah. I think that’s … there’s no question …


BEATRIX A. HAMBURG: … about it, and the parents have been a lot more integrated into the schools and the teaching and the benefit of these programs and they, they also benefit at home when the youngsters are trained and they have attitudes of non-violence and are training in “win-win”, you know, conflict resolution strategies. And the parents really have come to understand that there is a systematic way to do this and they want to … and, and the more we can involve parents in the schools, the better it is, just in general, but I think there is a lot of learning that has trickled into the community at large.

HEFFNER: That’s a very positive point at which we have to end the program. And thank you both … Betty and David Hamburg for joining me again …

DAVID A. HAMBURG: Thank you.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time, and if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.