Imagine a school where, each morning, the principal recites one of the principles of nonviolence and asks students to think about that principle throughout the day. Picture a school that has monthly assemblies devoted to one of these nonviolence principles. Imagine a school where more than 30 teachers, staff and administrators are so committed to their students’ emotional well-being that they take after-school trainings to equip themselves to teach, coach and model a nonviolent approach to conflict. Then, try to think of a school that sets as its goal becoming a nonviolent school as the foundation for a peaceful community, state and world.
For those who yearn for a more peaceful world and a lessening of violence, vitriol and fear, this may seem like a fairy tale. But it is no myth — a miracle, perhaps, but entirely true.
Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown, R.I., has embarked on an ambitious mission to become a model school based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence. The inspiration came from Robin Wildman, who has taught Kingian nonviolence education for 15 years. Observers have remarked that when walking into her classroom, one can feel the sense of respect, compassion and community she has built with and among her students. Wildman accomplishes this by spending the first three weeks of the school year teaching nonviolence lessons, to establish the framework for how the class will operate for the remainder of the year. She says it is time well spent. The outcome is more time spent on teaching, and less on discipline.
Nonviolence curriculum includes principles and steps to address conflict, civil rights history, types and levels of conflict, finding the “truth” in your opponent’s position, and devising a reconciliation plan as part of the resolution of conflict. Over time, habits for addressing conflict change. The curriculum is a “wrap-around,” not an “add-on,” readily incorporating aspects of diversity, anti-bullying and restorative justice programs, among others.
Last year, some of Wildman’s colleagues came to her and asked to be trained. Since then she has conducted four 20-hour trainings. Broad Rock trainees vary from classroom teachers to teaching assistants, administrators, and Unified Arts teachers.
About 20 trainees have formed a nonviolence committee, which meets monthly in pursuit of the goal of becoming a nonviolent school. The committee has created a multi-year action plan, modified the PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) and Olweus (anti-bullying) curriculae to incorporate nonviolence language, organized monthly assemblies, and established a nonviolence re-teaching model for in-school suspensions. The in-school suspension room is staffed by a substitute teacher, but personnel trained in nonviolence stop by during their free time to talk with the student who’s been suspended, creating a community of support.
Next steps for the Broad Rock initiative are evaluation and documentation, with support from the University of Rhode Island Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies and Providence’s Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence; garnering support from the South Kingstown School District to take trainings to other schools; and including Kingian nonviolence in the district’s wellness policy as a practice that can improve the emotional health of students.
Why is Kingian nonviolence needed in schools? Among the reasons Wildman cites: It focuses on students’ emotional needs. It helps improve school culture and climate. It creates a calm learning environment. It fosters appreciation of differences. It reconciles conflicts using nonviolence strategies. And it contributes to the development of a peaceful community.
Kingian nonviolence education does this and more. It teaches respect. Encompassing the teachings of Dr. King, it promotes love over hate; justice, forgiveness and reconciliation over revenge; respectful dialogue over rancorous debate; and positive, peaceful action over inaction or violence. The Broad Rock initiative has the potential to give young people skills they need for happy, healthy relationships throughout their lives. In addition, it will empower them to play an active, productive role in their communities, state and nation.
In this time of overwhelming anger, fear and violence, efforts like those at Broad Rock are cause for hope. They offer perhaps the best chance for a significant reduction in all forms of violence.