Monday, June 6, 2011

Teaching Nonviolence in the school

Either as a standalone project or integrated process, educating students about nonviolent resistance requires a lot consideration to ensure it achieves the required aims.
As a standalone project, a set of learning activities could be created which will be implemented apart from the core academic activities of the school.
On the other hand, I favour the integrated approach, the whole school adopts nonviolent resistance as a theme for the term or session and every teacher builds his/her learning activities around this theme. This approach will allow for the theme to be studied from different angles through the various subjects.
In promoting nonviolent resistance as an alternative means of effecting transformation to students, I’d endeavour integrating the Principles of Gandhi’s Satyagraha into my lessons.
If it is going to be a school wide initiative, I’d suggest using Nonviolence as a theme; for a session or term. During the period, various aspects of nonviolence will be integrated into normal everyday academic subjects.
But if I am only able to use it my classroom as a class teacher, I’d first solicit for the support of other teachers who teach the class other subjects. The Geography teacher could integrate lessons on important places where nonviolence has been used to effect positive transformation. The History tutor could design lessons that will illustrate various important personalities in nonviolent resistance. The English Teacher could also look for or create comprehension passages that will teach the students about key words in nonviolent resistance.
It is very important to note however that nonviolence could best be taught by a teacher who is personally involved in nonviolent efforts even if it is only at the local workers union level. A teacher who personifies the ideals of nonviolence as a means of effecting transformation will certainly make a better guide in guiding the students to understand in believe in the principles of nonviolent resistance. It is also important to note that teaching nonviolence to students has to be carefully planned to ensure the authorities and school administrators don’t misconstrue the aims of the project.
It is very important to firstly teach the students about the absolute necessity of obeying the rules of the society in as much as they don’t contain inhuman tendencies. They must be made aware that even when using nonviolent means to exert pressure on an oppressive regime, the protesters must obey basic rules of the society that are not in themselves oppressive. Justice cannot be obtained through unjust means.
The teacher has to make the students aware that when protesting against oppressive regimes, the oppressed must never conduct themselves in a lawless manner. They must uphold the key principle of using truthful means to achieve their aims.
A teacher could start introducing the principles nonviolent resistance by teaching students about the power of the ballot box in a democratic system. This will make them understand that just as governments could be installed through the collection of individual votes, the masses could also effect political transformation through nonviolent acts of Omission and Commission.
Importance of networking must also be highlighted to the students to enable them appreciate the benefits of working together with others both locally and globally to effect political transformation.
As being witnessed in the Arab world, ICT tools are also a very powerful means of supporting nonviolent resistance. This offers an opportunity to teach the students about the use of and powers of social media in a nonviolent effort.
Another useful method will be the use of a voting system to arrive at decisions on some issues in the class/school; students should be allowed to put forward their submissions then the matter is put to vote and the option that is scores the highest vote implemented. This is a good way of teaching the students to understand the power of using majority support to ensure action is taken or changed effected.
The teacher/school should also create avenues through which students can express their opinions on issues they feels requires change (A Student parliament with representatives from across all classes will be a good idea). It is absolutely important for the teacher or school administration to be willing to consider the students’ opinions; if their call for a change is found to be valid and feasible, the teacher/administration must be willing to effect the transformation; and if it is not feasible, detailed and reasonable explanation should be offered to let the students understand why their complaints or suggestions cannot be acted upon.
Running the school/class on a system that encourages the students to be active participants in decision-making will make them see that they can make their voice heard wherever they find themselves and that by speaking out and acting nonviolently; they can effect transformation of their realities.
The role of the school as an agent of socialization cannot be separated from that of the other socialization agents like the family, religious centres, the mass media, and the larger community. This implies that if the school decides to integrate nonviolence education into its curriculum, it must be designed based on the local reality and efforts made to integrate the other agents of socialization into the efforts; an intensive collaborative effort should be initiated to involve the wider community. Selected public officials and political activists could be invited to deliver related speeches. Care must however be taken to ensure the invited speaker tailor their speeches to the sensibilities and mental capabilities of the students to avoid misconceptions and misrepresentations.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ghandi, King and Sharp - My reflections

Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance during the civil rights struggle in the United States was largely influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha. In his autobiography, King wrote:
“As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. ... It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking”

I wouldn’t classify Gene Sharp’s discourse as a theory on its own; I would rather prefer to consider it as a theoretical analysis of nonviolent change which has helped in classifying the various methods of nonviolence resistance and the possible outcomes that could be expected from the employment of these methods.
Both Gandhi and King promoted the basic principles of Satyagraha as listed below:
1.    Nonviolence,
2.    Truth (Belief in its use at all times, in all aspects of the struggle),
3.    Chastity (Both physically and spiritually),
4.    Self control, no matter the provocation (both in words and deeds)
5.    Courage (and this includes willingness to bear any discrimination, discomfort or ill-treatment as a consequence of the resistance),
6.    Respect for other beliefs and cultures, even if they are the aggressors.
7.    Personal devotion to contributing to the community of protesters. This devotion must be based on personal convictions and not dependent on whether the others also contribute or not).
From my personal reflections, I see Nonviolence as promoted by Gandhi and King to be a moral struggle which works towards using nonviolent methods to force oppressors to critically examine their actions. By embarking on Acts of Omission, and willing to bear the consequences, the oppressed are actually declaring their independence from the control of the oppressors’ authority, which they are therefore refusing to accept as being legitimate. By continuing to neglect the actions which are expected of them despite the consequences, they are actually eroding the moral authority being claimed by the oppressor. Though the oppressor may have the power of force behind him, the oppressed are able to show they possess an inner strength to resist the oppressor’s force.
By moving the struggle further to committing Acts of Commission, the nonviolent protester shows that apart from being able to refuse recognizing the oppressor’s authority (Through acts of omission), he could use his self declared freedom to initiate acts that conflict with the interests/expectations of the oppressor.
As suggested by Judith Brown, "this is a political strategy and technique which, for its outcomes, depends of historical specificities”.
But the three broad classification of the possible outcome of the use of nonviolent resistance are most feasible. Both Gandhi and King believed that the nonviolent struggle should aim at converting the oppressor to cooperate with the oppressed to meet a just end that the oppressor is unwittingly obstructing. A spirit of love and understanding can be seen in this outlook; they both aim at getting the oppressors to actually see light and willingly cooperate with the oppressed to effect a positive transformation. A good example of this conversion is the US Freedom Riders struggle in the 1960s, the series of Interstate Freedom Rides in 1961 led to the authorities cancelling the various racial policies on trains, toilets, waiting rooms and lunch counters. Another situation where conversion was arrived at as a final solution was the South African Racist struggle which has now led to a free South Africa for all races.
In struggles for independence from colonial or other occupying forces, and it usually has to end with nonviolent coercion. Because in this situation, the aim is to get the oppressors leave the land they have colonized and allow the natives an opportunity to rule themselves. Examples abound of situations where this aim is achieved. It is also a common aim of nonviolence resistance efforts to force Dictators to cede power in order for democratic elections to be used to elect leaders. Examples of these are what we are presently seeing across the Arab world.
Sometimes, the middle course of Accomodation is a better alternative if the reality being challenged offers opportunities for negotiations. Both the oppressors and the oppressed can find a middle ground upon which they can agree to end the protests. Labour unions usually have this as their aim when they use nonviolent means to tackle government policies. Negotiations usually ensue and at the end, each side has to s


Friday, June 3, 2011

Key principles of Non violence

Modern Nonviolence as a means of effecting positive transformation of societal realities of oppression or discrimination, owe most of its key principles to Mahatma Gandhi’s 1908 philosophy of Satyagraha – a Gajurati word translated as “truth force”.
Nonviolence takes many forms depending on the reality being confronted and the particular society in which it is practiced; but these key principles contained in Gandhi’s Satyagraha are common to them all. These principles can be discussed as follows:

Truth is one key principle that is common to all nonviolent efforts towards transformation. Firstly, the struggle has to be based on truthful reasons and must promote the use of truthful means for the achievement of the required transformation.
Promotion of nonviolent resistance requires absolute sincerity of purpose and methods to be able to evoke enough followership to make an impact.
Using this alternative method of societal transformation in a condition of oppression or injustice requires that the various efforts must be modeled around the concept of truth.
The concept of Truth in its pure, natural form must be maintained at all stages of the struggle. No matter the temptation, promoters of nonviolent resistance must never condescend to using untruthful means to achieve their aims.
From a religious angle, God is always on the side of the truth and though falsehood may reign for a while, the truth shall certainly prevail in the end.

With proper coordination, civil disobedience can be used to effect the transformation of reality in an oppressive situation. Once it has been decided that the oppressors has no moral authority to make rules or give orders, refusal to obey these rules or orders is a key principle that ensures the success of nonviolent resistance. It could take the form of Acts of Omission (The protester omits actions which the oppressor normal would expect him to perform); or Acts of Commission (The protester committing actions which, if he recognized the authority of the oppressor, would normally not commit).
Care however must be taken to ensure that the slightest amount of violence is not allowed to be used, no matter the provocations. Oppressors over time, use many tactics to provoke violent responses during peaceful civil disobedience actions to grant them excuse to react violently. It is very essential to strictly adhere to the principle of Nonviolence.

When civil disobedience is used as a tool for effecting transformation, it is essential for the people to plan a well organized system of community self assistance between themselves. Sharing must be promoted and upheld throughout the ranks of the participants in all matters. The welfare of the community of nonviolent protesters must be a communal issue, with each member willing to contribute his resources and skills to ensuring the survival and eventual success of the community. Many deprivations will be encountered, but a spirit of “One for all and all for one” can be used to ensure everyone feels cared for.
Individual Physical and material resources as well as skills should be placed at the  disposal of the community to ensure that no matter the deprivations imposed by the authorities, the people can use their collective resources to ensure they survive.

ACCEPTANCE OF CONSEQUENCES (Willingness to persevere without retaliating):
For civil obedience to be effective as a tool for effecting transformation, it is absolutely important for participants to be willing to accept the consequences of their struggle. These consequences will certainly come in different forms, but they will be aimed at breaking the spirit of the protesters, to make them drop their convictions.
This willingness to bear physical, material and psychological deprivations and discomfort in order to prove their conviction in the ideals being promoted; is a very strong weapon which can bring about positive transformation in any situation.
It is not an easy task to convince people to bear risks and discomfort for a cause, but once a cause is well grounded on truthful ideals that the people can relate to, and led by sincere leaders, it has a high likelihood of success. Once the people buy-in to the ideals and are convinced of its direct relation to their lives; they will gladly lay down their lives for its success.
The mindset of most oppressors is fixed on the notion that everyone has a price and that there is a point at which a person’s will break. By showing a willingness to bear physical pain and hunger rather than sell out on their ideals; by showing a willingness to bear incarceration and torture other than giving up their convictions; the nonviolent protester proves himself to be morally superior to the oppressor and confounds the oppressor while raising public sympathy for his cause.
The key point here is that the promoter of non-violent action must be able to see the discomforts and deprivations he suffers today, in the cause of the struggle, as sacrifices being made to ensure a better tomorrow.

One salient thread that runs through the messages of all practitioners of nonviolent change is the fact that the oppressor is not regarded as an enemy; rather, he is regarded as someone who should be engaged to see reason regarding the acts of oppression. It is the evil in the acts of oppression that is being fought against, and the oppressor is actually shown love by attempting to reform his outlook from an oppressive one to a mutually beneficial one. This principle is based on the fact that the oppressed does not seek to disgrace his opponent, but actually wishes to guide him towards enlightenment.
Nonviolence mostly seeks to force the oppressors to critically examine their actions and see the reasons why there should be a transformation of the present reality. It is not a “We Versus You” situation, but one in which the oppressed are trying to make the oppressors realize the wrongness of their actions and as a result of this realization, be willing to work together with oppressed to transform the reality  that is mutually beneficial to all parties.

Critical self-awareness and transformative learning

Critical self-awareness is very essential to the continuous development of man in every aspect of human endeavour. In promoting peace education, it is very important for us to cultivate the idea of constant examination and reflection of our selves.
It is only by developing a sense of constant self-examination and reflection on our thoughts, words and actions that we can actually perceive any inherent flaws and initiate appropriate transformative action to effect changes.
Journaling(In form of diary keeping or Blogging), could be a good way of ensuring we keep a well documented portfolio of our activities, which we can refer to in order to measure our current levels, assess our progresses and reflect on what needs to be changed to make us better.
Teacher discussion groups will be a very effective way of developing critical self-awareness, but there must be a sincere willingness on the part of all concerned to use the discussion forum as a platform for collectively assessing one another and offering constructive suggestions on how to make improvements where needed.
Personally, I am capable of objectively examining my actions and I prefer crossexamining my actions in relation to the teaching of my religion and the effects of these actions on my interpersonal relationships.
I build inputs from spoken and sometimes unspoken feedback garnered from people with whom I interact. I also sometimes directly seek fro feedback, especially when it has to do with my relationship with my students.
For instance, it is one of my usual practices, to ask students to suggest one thing they think I could change about myself or introduce which they think could make the learning process more interesting.
I usually get lots of varied responses, some interesting, some scratchy and biting; but I really appreciate having the benefit of that mirror which grants me a glimpse into how my students perceive me. (A student once suggested that I should become more friendly, and this lead me to a personal soul search, and the truth was that I discovered I was bringing my personal worries with me into the classroom and thus seeming unfriendly !!!. That observation really helped me a lot).
Using inputs like this, combined with others from other people’s observations and body language, I am able to initiate transformations in my personality, teaching methods, or whatever part of my life needs adjustment.
One important issue here is that the teacher must be willing to be humble enough to see himself as a human being who is not perfect and thus liable to make mistakes. It is only this acceptance of being a normal human being who could make mistakes that will enable us be able to maintain an open mind to criticisms and observations from others. It is these inputs and proper reflection upon them that will help us in seeing what needs to be changed and decide on how best to about the change. By being able to see ourselves as being involved in a state of perpetual learning, we are most likely to continue making improvements on a regular basis and be more adjustable to situations.

Transformative methods in the school environment

I will prefer having transformative methods implemented in a school-wide initiative. This is because the school, being a micro reflection of the larger community will offer a more realistic opportunity for transformation than an individual classroom.

Firstly, there will be a need to put in place appropriate structures for transparent information exchange between all members of the school community – the students, the educators, the administrators, and parents. There must be adequate avenues for sharing views, ideas and perspectives in an atmosphere that is built on mutual respect and understanding with a singular aim of achieving peaceful coexistence.

There is then the need for a sincere willingness on the part of all concerned t initiate a process of critical examination of reality coupled with an open-mindedness to carry out sober reflection on the perceived reality with a view to effecting positively transforming the reality.

On the school level, the staff (both academic and non-academic) need to put in place structures that will enable them critically examine the reality of the community. (It should be noted that at this point that everyone must be convinced of the sincerity of purpose of the initiative and be made aware of the benefits of the ultimate goal – Peace, to themselves as individuals, the school community and the larger world)  This first stage will require a comprehensive enlightenment and re-orientation initiative to ensure everyone is engaged.

Once the commitment of everyone is achieved, and they are able to see the value of joining hands to transform their reality to something better; sincere positive inputs will certainly start coming in form of individual and collective critical examination of the reality.
The committee system will do well in such an initiative with various committees set up to coordinate the inputs and organize brainstorming dialogue events. Though it is very important that everyone is allowed to air their views however extreme or trivial they may seem. There must be no ridiculing of anyone’s views. (There are always many ways of incorporating different views into the final course of action and getting everyone satisfied; what matters is that everyone gets a feeling of being heard). And this will ensure everyone has a sense of collective responsibility towards ensuring the success of the final decision when taken.

In class with students from multicultural backgrounds, the transformative method will firstly require the teacher carrying out extensive research to find out the views and outlooks of the various cultures to the reality in the society.
If for example, the problem is that of ethno-religious misconceptions and misrepresentations, it will require the teacher carrying out extensive research to find out about the teachings of the different religions and cultures on the concept of peace; and then ensure that in designing the learning activities, he incorporates practical examples of peaceful ethno-religious coexistence from history and from his immediate environment if any can be found.

The first stage will be to define the concept of peace as it relates to their community in particular, and the larger world in general.
It would be necessary to let them understand the value of peaceful coexistence with emphasis on the interwoven relationship that binds people in the world.
The teacher must ensure he lets the students understand that all cultures and faiths actually promote peaceful coexistence and that they should not look at the problem of being one set of people hating the other. He should try letting them understand that what they have is a problem of lack of peace, and everyone should be willing to work together to solve it.
It would them be necessary for the teacher to facilitate a discussion in classroom where the students can air discuss their perspectives to peace in their immediate community; how they perceive they perceive the present reality and what they think could be done to improve on that reality. (It should be noted that the teacher, as a facilitator, should subtly guide the direction of the discussions to ensure the right manner of words are used. An introductory speech to emphasize that abusive or derisive words and direct accusations are disallowed in the discussions.)

At the end of the discussion sessions, students could be given homework, to write out their general perspectives on peace, their perception of the present reality and possible means of effecting a positive transformation. (They should be instructed to ensure their submissions contain practical suggestions especially as it relates to their relations with their peers and the teacher in the class). Another method will be to get all the students to print out their suggestions, and submit them without printing their names on them. This will offer them more freedom to express their views.
After going through the submitted homework, the teacher should note down the various points raised and organize another round of discussion sessions where the points raised and possible transformative steps suggested will be discussed. This round of discussions should be designed to allow the students collectively ratify some of the practical steps suggested.
At this point, students could also be asked to make submissions about how this process could be extended to the larger community around them.
This method could also work at the individual level to effect settlement between two disputing students. The teacher, as a mediator in this instance, first explains the concept of peace at the interpersonal level to the two of them and lets them understand the value of peaceful coexistence among them. Each party should them explain his/her perspective and mention how he/she feels the dispute could be resolved for the relationship to assume its normalcy. If well guided, most petty disputes among students will be settled amicably by guiding them through this process of transforming a strained relationship into peaceful one. This process will teach them to critically examine situations when they occur, reflect on the causes of the situations, consider the effects of the situation on them (Positive or negative), learn to work together to proffer solutions that could effect transformation of their situations.

Transformative learning and Peace education - A personal reflection

Learning process can rightly be described as transformative when it leads to a fundamental change in knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and worldview upon critical examination and reflection.

Peace education aims at effecting societal transformation towards a culture of peace starting from the intrapersonal level, to the interpersonal level, all through to the intercultural and global levels.

With the realization and acceptance of the fact that the essence of peace education is transformation of the society, it is therefore important to model peace education efforts on this view of it being a means of changing the orientation of the society from a culture of war to a culture of peace.
From my perception, effective implementation of peace education would require the following:-
Ø    Clear definition of the current reality;
Ø    Critical examination of the defined reality;
Ø    Reflection with a view to identifying the best possible way(s) of transforming the reality;
Ø    Actual action towards effecting the transformation.
A good reflection upon the above elements will show that peace education aims at changing reality as defined at first, through a process of critical examination and reflection; before finally using the newly acquired understanding and enlightenment to initiate the actual action of transforming the reality.

To me, Peace education is not an end in itself, but a means to ensuring the world regains normalcy and continues to build upon that normalcy. With this mind, I believe the process of definition of reality, critical examination, reflection and eventual action; is not a one-time, solves all pill to be taken and then discarded. It should be regarded as a long-term treatment which, to be effective, must be embedded into the societal values and must always be in a state of being revised, redefined and improved upon to continually provide a means of progressively moving the world consciousness towards peace.

The world is always in a state of continuous action and new events unfold daily out of the diverse interactions among people. Out of these interactions, issues will appear for which there are diverse outlooks, and only a world in a state of perpetual self-examination can be well prepared to meet new challenges as they emerge.
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