Thursday, December 24, 2009

Education as the Practice of Nonviolence (2)

Education as the practice of nonviolence cannot begin without affirming that what we are trying to teach is that which gives life - to individual persons, to the human community, to our shared conversation, to new ideas, to keeping an open mind. It is a way of being together that expects disagreement and contention, that actually embraces conflict and the inevitably of conflict (perhaps disagreement is a better word here - I hope to return to this at some point), but does so in a completely respectful, considerate and non-hostile manner. Such a practice says that we all matter and that everyone's contributions to that conversation must be actively heard and carefully taken into account. However, it also acknowledges that when decisions are made some of those contributions will be adopted and others will be set aside. The fact that everyone has a roughly equal chance to add to that conversation does not mean that everyone's ideas are equal in value or in impact. But the right to be heard and to be taken seriously remains a key aspect of nonviolent education that cannot be compromised.

Education as the practice of nonviolence challenges us to be our best and to keep alive what is best for the whole community. These include mutual respect, which sounds pleasant enough, but at its root challenges all of us literally “to look again” at those around us and to consider anew what each person is straining to communicate. Education as the practice of nonviolence also demands that we collaborate together on our most difficult problems, bringing to bear the many different ways of thinking that are found in any group and using those diverse ways of thinking to deepen our understanding and broaden the bounds of what might be deemed an acceptable solution. Additionally, this practice of nonviolence obliges us to search for solutions to our problems that enhance everyone’s well being, not just the few. As the great educator Myles Horton has said, it is wrong to want something for myself that I would not also want to extend to everyone else. According to any reasonable standard of justice, I cannot insist on a right for myself that I would not also demand for all others. Nonviolent education regards it as a sacred principle that anything which contributes to life, to growth, to ongoing development should be available to everyone without exception.

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