Today April 16th, is the anniversary of the death of Emily Hilscher, my former student from Rappahannock County, Virginia, who was the first person killed at Virginia Tech. The anniversary reminds me of how humbled and heartbroken I am in the face of gun-violence. I miss Emily’s sweet spirit and all the gifts she would have given the world. Guns took two other students from Rappahannock County, where I taught for 20 years. Both committed suicide. Both blew their hearts out with a shotgun, five years apart. One of my students in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,was shot and killed a week before his 18th birthday Another one has a bullet in his spine and will probably never walk again. Another one shot his childhood friend during a drunken drug sale gone wrong. Two lives lost, one to death, one to prison. Please, say the names of these young people out loud, just as people all over the country did on March 14, 2018 for those who were lost in Parkland, Florida: Emily, Caleb, Matt, Dayjohn, Tyrin, Deandre and Garret.
The list of young lives lost is too long. Our nation is asking “How do we protect our children?” As Rick Phillips, founder of Community Matters, says, there is a difference between security and safety. Security is the outside-in protection of force, safety is the inside-out protection of a culture of respect and peace. Student Edna Chavez made an interesting observation at the March For Our Lives Rally on 3/14/18, “Arming teachers will not work. More security in our schools does not work. Zero tolerance policies do not work. They make us feel like criminals. We should feel empowered and supported in our schools.”
After 40 years working in schools, I see that internal protection systems have not been strengthened as they need to be. Without eliminating the root causes of violence, creative and disturbed individuals will always invent news ways to make others suffer the way they are suffering. Hurt people hurt people. Emotional intelligence is an essential tool for breaking this cycle, an essential tool for protecting our children.
I’d like to draw attention to three effective ways of developing the emotional intelligence that empowers, supports and protects students from violence of any kind. I’ll do this in three articles, focusing on the following three approaches:
1. A Bully Prevention Program called Community Matters
2. Peace Building Through the Arts with Create Peace Project, Destiny Arts and Partnership for Youth Empowerment
3. A life skills curriculum called Peace Literacy, developed by West Point Cadet and former Army Captain, Paul K. Chappell
The move for schools to teach social and emotional intelligence is an important step in reducing violence and these programs are a part of that effort. If each one of these programs were available to the children of our country, violence would decrease radically, if not be eliminated all together.
Through my work as a trainer with the nationally-recognized, evidence-based program called “Community Matters” www.community-matters.org, I have seen what happens when students and teachers are empowered to prevent bullying. We can protect the children and adults in our school best by helping everyone to recognize mistreatment, name it and transform it when we see it. This is Peace Literacy. This is Violence Prevention. This is Emotional Intelligence. Without internal understanding, metal detectors, security guards and armed teachers often serve to increase hostility and violence.
The process of recognizing mistreatment, naming it and transforming it with close friends and colleagues can transform all institutions. These five forms of mistreatment qualify as “bullying.”
4. Unwanted Physical Contact
5. Acts Against an Institution
Think about what happens if we have a common language to name these behaviors. If you can name it, you can tame it.
Breaking each one down –
1. Exclusion is devastating to each of us because we are tribal mammals who died if we were cast out of our group. The place where we experience exclusion is the same place where we experience physical pain in our nervous system. Bullying begins here.
2. Put-downs trigger our fight or flight brain. Our biological response is to attack back. Not putting someone down means learning to speak from one’s experience and heart, without denigrating other points of view and experiences. It means “I” statements instead of “You” statements. “My heart is broken and I want gun violence to stop” is different than saying the NRA is a terrorist organization.
3. Intimidation is two against one, big against small, powerful against weak. It’s when someone tells you they’ll hurt you or your loved ones if you talk, someone who threatens you if you tell the truth.
4. Unwanted Physical Contact is any form of touching that you have not consented to, up to and including death by an assault rifle.
5. Acts Against an Institution is vandalism, hacking, corruption, randomly shooting people and stopping the process of democracy.
Now I’d you to think about what happens when students are given tools, starting in third grade, for transforming these forms of mistreatment:
1. Supporting a target – being inclusive and kind
2. Putting up a put-down – we need 26 put-ups for every put-down
3. Giving consequences and options to a friend who wants to act out violently
4. Distracting an aggressor by changing the subject and moving them away from the target
5. Connecting, Reflecting, Respecting, and Re-directing a friend’s aggression into positive behavior choices
6. Getting help – from an adult or colleague.
Think about what happens when adults model these behaviors. Think about what happens when all students are included, supported, put-up, listened to, respected and motivated.
These are the tools that Community Matters empowers young people with. Students use the experiences they have had with mistreatment to role play these “Safe School Ambassador Actions” in a two-day training. Then teachers, counselors and volunteers support them weekly or bi-weekly with these practices. Community Matters is evidence-based, field tested, and proven – by more than 70,000 students in over 1,500 schools in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Guam – to reduce incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying, promote academic excellence, and improve the overall school climate.
Police and guns do not promote positive school climate. Empowering students to heal trauma, self-regulate, use restorative justice and ask for support does. Empowering teachers to recognize trauma, teach restorative practices and have exploring conversations does. Believing in the students’ drive for mastery, autonomy, higher purpose and connection builds positive school climate.
Create Peace Project transforms schools through the power of student art and voice to be more inclusive and joyous. When students create together, they don’t fight each other. Trust is increased when people risk sharing their creativity. Create Peace Project has helped increase self-awareness through self-expression with over 60,000 students around the world, teaching conflict resolution and collaboration skills in the process. Hallways and school walls that display the unique imaginations and accomplishments of the students promotes the essential ingredients of respect and freedom that nurture peace. All the arts are a crucial tool for giving children the space to share what they are experiencing, including their traumas that may fester and explode into violence. As one of Create Peace Project’s Lead Artists, I continually witness that art heals the effects of violence on the individual, that art is a unifying force and that art is an effective vehicle to peacefully engage youth in resolving differences non-violently. Through the arts, we can empower and encourage today’s youth to live, practice, and exemplify a peaceful way of life now.
Peace Literacy is a curriculum developed by former Army Captain, Iraq veteran and West Point Graduate Paul K. Chappell https://paulkchappell.com/. In his newest book, Soldiers of Peace, Paul describes how, 1000 years ago no one believed we needed to read. At that time, many cultures also believed that human sacrifice was necessary in order for crops to grow. Both of these paradigms have changed. Now we assume that everyone needs to be literate and that there are other ways to ensure that crops will grow besides killing people. Now is the time to change the paradigm that violence is inevitable by realizing the need for Peace Literacy.https://www.peaceliteracy.org/ Captain Chappell has developed a new approach to peace and education informed by three models:
Literacy education in reading and writing
West Point Leadership Training
Nonviolence strategies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi
Peace Literacy builds on the strengths of these three models:
Viewing peace not simply as a goal, but as a skill-set
Teaching a strategic approach to peacemaking
Focusing on and integrating well-being at the personal, social and political levels