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Peace in the Classroom

Article from Fall 2011 Chronicles of Quaker Education

Friends schools are finding creative ways to incorporate the peace testimony in their curricula. What's being taught in the classroom is enhancing student understanding of justice and basic human and civil rights.

At the Moses Brown School (Providence, RI), two recent efforts demonstrate how the peace testimony is woven into the school’s curriculum.

In one, English teacher Lenke Wood and Galen Hamann, Director of Friends Education, discussed the peace testimony and conflict resolution after ninth graders read Scene 3 of Sophocles’ Antigone, a classic novel full of conflict and war. As homework, students wrote reflections in which they imagined themselves taking part in the Sophocles tragedy—and how they might prevent it. The exercise helped students understand that the peace testimony is not just about ending war, but also about seeking to resolve conflicts with neighbors, colleagues, family, and friends.

Meanwhile, middle school art teacher Cathy van Lancker and the eighth grade class created a mini-unit that introduced students to the peace testimony and Quaker artists like Edward Hicks, James Turell, and Melanie Weidner, and Quaker beliefs about symbols. Students then used pastels to create pictures that represented one element of the peace testimony. The images were incorporated into one design and students made a ceramic mural that will hang in the middle school halls as an introduction to and reminder of Friends’ commitment to peace.

Every student at Plymouth Meeting Friends School (Plymouth Meeting, PA) learns skills for social and emotional awareness through a weekly class led by Rob Staples, PMFS school psychologist. The developmental curriculum includes a “feeling” vocabulary, as well as strategies for effective conflict resolution and authentic communication. The class culminates in training all fifth and sixth graders in peer mediation.

Although the processes become natural to the students, this established social-emotional curriculum is only one ingredient that has created a culture of community at the school. Everyone—teachers, staff, parents—are held to the same standards through clearly articulated processes for problem solving and working through conflicts. Problem solving processes and expectations also are included in parent and personnel handbooks.

More than 30 years ago, Wilmington Friends School (Wilmington, DE) initiated the yearlong Global Peace and Justice course to familiarize ninth grade students with the practical applications of Quaker testimonies. Most recently, after grasping the realities of global village thinking, students learned how to nurture a culture of peace and nonviolence by studying successes in the United States as well as Chile, Egypt, India, Liberia, Serbia, and South Africa.

Using social scientists' analytical tools, students researched how several societies solved challenges related to human rights, interfaith relations, and resources such as water. Students learned how women build sustainability by role-playing activists and peacemakers at the annual simulation of the international women's conferences that occurred in Nairobi and Beijing. During the second half of the year, students analyzed global poverty, India and Pakistan’s independence, and the conundrum of Israelis’ and Palestinians’ coexistence.

A newer program at the Carolina Friends School (Durham, NC) also deals with the practical application of the peace testimony. “Rehearsal for Life,” adapted from Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, empowers the school community to practice conflict resolution strategies within a skit created by students that highlights authentic conflicts and challenging situations. Participants ask an audience of their peers to step in and create new solutions, attempting to solve the conflict. Throughout this work, students examine bullying as a system, with a strong focus on empowering bystanders to take bold action.

This work has been widely successful with students, teachers, and even parents. The school also has co-created a teacher training with local schools so that more teachers can become trained facilitators in “Rehearsal for Life” techniques.

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