New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Teaching Peace

March 12, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Family, Guest Author

Interrupting Violence, Cultivating Nonviolence

by Susan Gelber Cannon

In my English classes for the past few years, we’ve read an award-winning novel that deals with racism and violence: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor.  As we explore the strong bonds of family that enable the Black protagonists to fight nonviolently for their human and civil rights, my students and I also explore the bonds of humanity that tie us together as classmates and members of the human family.

When students share “circles of culture” in which they examine their own backgrounds, multiple heritages, and interests, they delight in finding surprising similarities along with obvious differences between them and their classmates.  We also interrupt our reading to write “kind words” notes to each other for Valentine’s Day.  Former students return yearly to tell me they’ve kept these tiny “put-ups” and feel good when they read them.

When I suspend typical English class pursuits to explore such activities, I ask my students why they think I have taken the time to do so.  “You want us to ‘get’ the book….”  “The book is harsh and this gives us a break….”  “You want us to learn more about each other….” “Yes,” I say, “All that.  I want you to see how you can find a way to connect with another person — here in the classroom and anywhere in the world — if you stop to consider that you have similarities as well as differences.”

Recently, Frontline on PBS presented “The Interrupters,” the true story of three street-savvy peace builders courageously intervening to stop violence on the streets of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods.   The press release states: “The interrupters work for an innovative organization, CeaseFire, [whose founder] believes that the spread of violence mimics that of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar: Go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source.”  More information and interviews with the Interrupters, Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra, and director, Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) are available on the show’s website.

But before you check out “The Interrupters,” read about “Chicago’s Peace Warriors,” working with less fanfare.  Students, teachers, and administrators at Chicago’s North Lawndale College Preparatory High, a charter school in a gang-troubled neighborhood, are employing Kingian Nonviolence to interrupt cycles of violence and build a culture of peace in the school, and ultimately, the community. Teacher Tiffany Childress wanted to do something about school and community violence and took nonviolence training offered by the Positive Peace Warrior Network.  Founded by renowned Civil Rights leader Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr. and others, the mission of the Network’s curriculum is to “institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence,” as Dr. King expressed in 1968. Dr. King, like Gandhi, never saw nonviolence as passive.  Rather, nonviolence is proactive, energetic, and strategic.  The website defines Kingian Nonviolence as “a systematic framework of both conceptual principles and pragmatic strategies to reduce violence and promote positive peace at the personal, community, national, and global levels.”

Teacher Childress brought the training to her school, and school officials supported trainings for faculty and students, crucial steps in the process of transforming the school.  Students took ownership of their school and wider community, working to promote peaceful solutions to everyday problems that would typically lead to fights.  Realizing violence was not acceptable was a first step.  Teaching their peers to suspend negative judgments and creatively de-escalate conflict situations was the next step.  School officials committed time and importance to the issue, realizing “We have to teach the skills of building peace, just like we teach for the SATs.”

One year, school violence dropped 70 percent.  Yet, realizing they could not simply create a bubble of peace at school, leaving students alone to deal with their stressed and violent community, Childress helped students conduct civic engagement projects in their communities with the aim of building peace in and out of school.  Students recognize they are creating “the beloved community.  We show people that Kingian Nonviolence is a way of life that can better our lives and society as a whole.”

I read about “Chicago’s Peace Warriors” in the reform-oriented magazine Rethinking Schools. Veteran teachers for peace and justice will recognize the name. Visit their website to learn more about their rich and innovative resources for combining theory and practice to teach for equity and social justice. To learn more about infusing peace education into our classrooms and curricula:

May we all become interrupters of violence and builders of peace.

Susan Gelber Cannon is an educator with over 25 years of classroom experience, with special interests in character, global, multicultural, and peace education, and for developing teaching methods to help children to think, care, and act honorably and globally. She blogs at Think, Care, Act.

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