Practicing nonviolence in our schools

The following is an excerpted conversation between Jim Strickland, founder of ASCEND, and Beth Ha, board member of ASCEND, on the Marysville ASCEND Mailing List. It is reposted here with permission from the authors and has been lightly edited.

Jim:

Good morning, all.  I am reading a book of Gandhi’s writings and was struck by the implications of his philosophy of nonviolence for our schools.  For Gandhi, nonviolence is not just the absence of physical aggression, but an active force of love that rejects violence in all its forms — physical, mental, emotional, economic, political, spiritual, and even educational.  It made me think about educational practices that are forms of violence against students such as unsolicited judgment, involuntary competition, and the use of coercion in front of peers.  One seeks out advice and guidance from trusted mentors, but public judgment results in the violence of humiliation.  I tell my students that “bullying” can be as simple as not accepting someone as they are.  Unsolicited judgment can be seen as a form of bullying that destroys learning and generates anger, but that is built into the very structure of our schools.  Perhaps self-assessment must become our default policy with external evaluation available at student request?  I would love to hear from others on practices that could be forms of violence in our schools, and let’s consider including the theme of “nonviolence” in our understanding of what makes education student-centered.  More later!

Beth:

Yes! I agree that nonviolent communication must be a part of our schools in order for us to truly serve students. This will require a shift in paradigms in communication and behavior management strategies at the ground level. However, I would not agree that self-assessment is void of violence. Negative self-talk is just as damaging as external judgment and much more difficult to escape. Compassion, empathy, and forgiveness are key components to success.  I believe that the diversity department is already using healing circles in order to work on repairing past harm. If you are interested in another resource for addressing people’s needs without violence I would recommend  Marshall Rosenberg’s work which is about non-violent communication.

Jim:

Good point, Beth.  Thank you!  I agree that students can be much harder on themselves than any teacher ever would be.  Where does this destructive self-criticism come from?  What messages are we inadvertently (or intentionally) sending to our students that foster it?  What can we do to change or counter that?