Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mutual Recognition as the Practice of Nonviolence

The conditions that lead to violence are complex and not fully understood, but there is no question that some people use violent means to get attention, to shake people into recognition of them. One thing Education must seek to do is to recognize learners, to find a way to say here is a unique and fascinating individual. If respect means literally "to see again," recognition just as clearly means "to know again." And getting to know learners in profound ways is part of what many teachers who care about nonviolence try to do.

One of my favorite educators has said that teachers should be able to recount a story about every student’s learning. That story could focus on the frustration that preceded an exciting “discovery” or the satisfaction that comes from finally seeing how one idea connects to another or the joy experienced when a difficult project is successfully completed. Whatever it is, those stories, which, by the way, are like family stories that parents sometimes tell, often repeatedly, to single out their children, are meant to give learners a distinctive identity that also represent a declaration by the whole community that we know this about you as a learner. Such storytelling which marks each member of the community as unique also enhances the sense of belonging that every student needs to feel special and that often gives that student the confidence she needs to become both an independent learner and a more productive member of the group.

Education as the practice of nonviolence is another way of saying that although learning may be difficult and dispiriting at times and sometimes even rather unpleasant, it does not have to breed fear or brand someone as a personal failure. It can be a way of communicating to learners that although there are some things that are especially distasteful and hard, there are others that are joyful and relatively easy. When educators help students figure out what kind of learners they are, they are also helping them in important ways to figure out what kind of people they are and what they can do in the future to make the most of their strengths. When we practice nonviolence with our students, we may sometimes judge their work harshly on a particular test or writing assignment, but never as a condemnation of who they are, but only as a means to help them accomplish their goals, increase their opportunities, and realize their potential both as human beings and as future practitioners in the fields that excite them most. To accomplish this, we must know who learners are and revisit this question again and again, adjusting the conditions for education all along the way as we get to know and appreciate our students more and more.

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