'Education and Trusting in Self': William M. Timpson (UK, 2006/07; Burundi 2011/12; Korea, 2014/15)

Oct 13, 2020

Education and Trusting in Self

William M. Timpson, PhD shares an update on his work in Burundi that develops from his Fulbright Specialist Award in 2011/12 for a project on Sustainable Peace and Reconciliation


Image of young men in Burundi
Young men and boys gather daily to earn a rider on their bicycle taxis, pedaling in the hot sun and driving rain, dodging traffic and navigating steep hills, both up and down. Every daytime waiting and working means less time for school even though the possibility of some money for food or family may take precedence over a different future.

Building from that first Fulbright Specialist Award in 2011/12, I have been fortunate to receive two Global Grants from Rotary International to build on that initial 6-week effort. I have made four trips back to Burundi. Just last January I had the opportunity to visit Hope Fountain Elementary, to talk to Fulgence Twizerimana, an English teacher there, and several classes of students. They were shy at first but the older students eventually were willing to ask a few questions. One, in particular, wanted to know what advice American students would give them.

"Study hard, but trust yourself to think in new ways because you, your family and friends, your community, your country and the world will need all the creative help you can offer to get us out of our unsustainable practices"

“Study hard,” I offered, “but trust yourself to think in new ways because you, your family and friends, your community, your country and the world will need all the creative help you can offer to get us out of our unsustainable practices. We will need all your help to build a sustainable peace here and elsewhere, to change our destructive attitudes and practices toward the environment and to find new models of business and financing that do not exploit others or the natural resources upon which we rely.”

“And it will involve complex challenges,” I added. “Take those bicycle taxis outside. Those young men could—should—be in school like you. Without an education, their future will be very limited. Yes, their families may need that small extra income but maybe there are other ways to accomplish both, earning some money and learning relevant skills.”

In his book, Life After Violence (Zed Books, 2009), Peter Uvin is quite clear in his research that most Burundians see the role of education as critical for the future since a life of subsistence farming is so very limited, especially as the population grows and available land shrinks.

Image of a classroom in Burundi
Using the English that he had learned, this fellow in front wanted to know what advice American students had for them in Burundi. This is a private school and parents need resources to send their kids here. If they can get to graduation and enter a college, then the odds that they will find decent work increase dramatically. That said, there is a frequent lament about the lack of jobs, even for college graduates.

In this class at Hope Fountain Elementary, I mentioned the idea that has surfaced in the U.S. referred to as the “Green New Deal,” that shift in thinking that would invest public monies in sustainable projects like the benefits of solar and wind power for renewable energy. I told these young people that their school studies will prepare them for what exists today but that we will need to tap their collective creative potentials for what we will need in the future.

In my 2019 book, Learning Life’s Lessons (Peace Knowledge Press), for example, I write about the New Deal legislation that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law in 1935 that included the Social Security Act. Having taken the helm of the country in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, the Social Security Act (SSA) followed the popularity of other “New Deal” programs such as the Works Progress Administration which, for example, put artists to work on public commissions and the Civilian Conservation Corps which funded trail building in America’s parks.

These programs used public funds to put Americans back to work and inspire an economic recovery in the face of determined resistance to federal intervention by the previous Hoover Administration. Although it was initially created to combat unemployment, Social Security now functions primarily as a safety net for retirees and the disabled. The Social Security system has remained relatively unchanged since 1935.

In the 1930s, the U.S Supreme Court was lagging behind the populist wave that had propelled FDR into the White House. Reflecting a conservatism that had characterized Herbert Hoover’s presidency, the court had struck down many pieces of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. The President was himself inspired to do something radically different. He attempted to pack the court. On February 5, 1937, he sent a special message to Congress proposing legislation granting him new powers to add additional judges to all federal courts whenever there were sitting judges age 70 or older who refused to retire.

The practical effect of this proposal was that the President would get to appoint six new Justices to the Supreme Court (and 44 judges to lower federal courts), thus instantly tipping the political balance on the Court dramatically in his favor. The debate on this proposal lasted over six months. Eventually the seven-member court was able to defeat the court-packing by rushing pieces of New Deal legislation through and ensuring that the court's majority would uphold it.

In our 2016 book, 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Sustainability, I make reference to the new and creative thinking that Nelson Mandela brought to his presidency in South Africa. For example, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Desmond Tutu (1997) describes in his own book, No Future Without Forgiveness, what helped to inspire the emergence of South Africa from the horrors of its brutal system of white minority rule: “The first democratically elected government of South Africa was a government of National Unity made up of members of political parties that were engaged in a life-and-death struggle. The man who headed it had been incarcerated for twenty-seven years as a dangerous terrorist. If it could happen there, surely it can happen in other places. Perhaps God chose such an unlikely place deliberately to show the world that it can be done anywhere” (p. 280).

Accepting the world the way it is may block us from seeing other and better ways forward

Accepting the world the way it is may block us from seeing other and better ways forward. We can use role-plays with people to surface polarized positions, but then emphasize listening, empathy, and negotiation to find common, creative and sustainable ways to move forward. I challenged these students at Burundi’s Hope Fountain Elementary to believe that there were new and better ideas out there yet to be discovered. “Study and trust in your creative selves,” I repeated.


Dr. William M. Timpson is a retired professor in the School of Education at Colorado State University. Along with numerous articles, chapters and grants, he has written or co-authored nineteen books including several that address issues of peace and reconciliation, sustainability and diversity.

From 1981-1984 he was the recipient of a Kellogg National Fellowship to explore educational issues internationally including extended visits to Brazil, Nicaragua and Cuba (literacy), Asia and Scandinavia (educational change), and Eastern Europe (war, persecution, peace and reconciliation).

He has also been a Fulbright Specialist twice (at the University of Ulster’s UNESCO Centre in Northern Ireland in 2006 and at the University of Ngozi in Burundi, East Africa in 2011), and a Fulbright Teaching Scholar in 2014 at Kyung Hee’s Graduate Institute of Peace Studies in South Korea. He continues his work in Burundi with Rotary International Global Grants to infuse sustainable peace studies into the academic programs of the University of Ngozi, the area schools and church communities.


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