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Remarks on Teaching Non-violence

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Sophie de la Mar, Member, Board of Directors, Chicago Friends School


First of all, I would like to remind everyone that I am not an educator.  These remarks come from my understanding of our approach to teaching non-violence at the Chicago Friends School (CFS).  I am present at the school each Monday morning for our community meeting and for lunch and recess one day per week. These remarks are from my observations and my conversations with the teachers and the curriculum committee.

Bullying and its tragic consequences have been in the news in recent months/years and our society has been struggling with how to address the problem.  We now recognize that bullying has negative effects on the bullier, the bullied, and the society in which bullying takes place.  The first anti-bullying law in Illinois was passed in 2001, was expanded to include cyberbullying in 2008, and was further expanded and re-written in 2010 so that bullying prevention and active intervention are now expected of all schools.  Every school in Illinois is required to have an anti-bullying policy.  Our policy at the Chicago Friends School is titled “Behavior Policy”.

Our approach to teaching non-violence at the Chicago Friends School, though, goes far beyond having an anti-bullying policy.  If you look at our mission and philosophy statements, you can see that our school is founded on Quaker values and the culture and curriculum of the school reflect these values.  These are values held not only by Quakers but are values held in common with many religious and service organizations.  The difference might be in the effort made to integrate these values into everything we do. They are not just words posted on a wall (although they are posted there), they are values that are lived every day.  How is this done?

Community meeting

Each week at the Chicago Friends School starts with a community meeting.  Teachers, staff, students, parents, visiting family, and board or committee members who are available at that time gather together for this meeting.  Marie White, a member of the curriculum committee who is also the parent of a child at the school, presents one of the testimonies, along with a simple explanation of what it means, checking to make sure that the words and concept are clear to the students, then presents a set of simple queries (questions) about that testimony and how it might play out in our lives.  Then we go into stillness together to think about the queries.  People, including the children, speak out of the silence about their feelings and experiences relating to those queries.  When everyone who wants to speak has had a chance to do so, we close the meeting by singing a song or two related to the testimony.

Here is an example of a recent community meeting on the peace testimony:

When people disagree, each person involved sees the situation in a different way.  To solve our disagreements, we all need to try to look at the situation in a new way, to try to understand how others see it.  In peacemaking we try to imagine how other people see the problem.  

Think of when you’ve been in a disagreement.  How did you feel?  Did you try to listen to the other person’s point of view?  

How does it feel when someone really listens to you?  What helps you to be a good listener?

What do we mean when we say “to stand in someone else’s shoes”?


Love Grows One By One
Love grows one by one,
Two by two and four by four.
Love grows ‘round like a circle
And comes back knocking at your front door.

A Place in the Choir
Refrain:  All God’s children got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
And some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got now…

Listen to the bass, it’s the one on the bottom,
Where the bullfrog croaks and the hippotamus
Moans and groans with a big t’do,
And the old cow just goes ‘moo’. (refrain)

Dogs and the cats, they take up the middle,
Where the honey bee hums and the crickets fiddle,
The donkey brays and the pony neighs,
The old coyote howls. (refrain)

These values are modeled and practiced and reinforced throughout our daily activities by staying alert to opportunities to point out words and actions that show one or more of the values and also by pointing out when a word or action might be the opposite of a certain value.  These values are also encapsulated in the classroom rules.

Classroom rules

Take care of yourself:  CFS members respect themselves.  Teachers and staff will work with members to identify where they are socially, emotionally, and as a learner.  Children will learn to ask questions to help them learn, use words to describe their feelings and to connect with other community members.

Take care of each other:  Each member is an important part of CFS.  The school expects that all members treat each other with kindness and respect, celebrating diversity while building community.  Disrespect toward teachers, staff, or other children; inappropriate physical or verbal interaction; or disruptive behavior is not acceptable.

Take care of the classroom environment:  Members respect the classroom environment, building facilities, and resources of the school.  The school environment is an important part of the learning done at the school.  Teachers model to students through guided discovery how to use and treat materials, books and equipment in that classroom.

Classroom environment

The classroom is envisaged as a container for the children.  How does it look?  Feel? We want the children to feel safe there.  Are things predictable and consistent?  Does the child feel free to explore yet protected?  Do the children feel inner peace, that necessary prerequisite to learning?

The colors chosen for our school are beautiful, soothing, calm.  The furniture arrangement creates areas suggestive of certain activities, like comfortable places to read and a lovely open space with a flat rug which is good (and quiet) for building.  

We have sound baffles on the wall and both a white noise machine and the ability to play music.  

We have a chill-out couch which a child may go to when he/she feels a need to re-group or calm down or just rest a minute.  We have a beanbag chair for those feeling restlessness in the body.  

We have 1 hour outdoor recess every day, weather permitting.  

We go into stillness together before lunch.  The children have built up from 30 seconds to 2 minutes and will continue to expand this time.  The children are learning how to find their inner peace.

In order to really structure the classroom to meet children’s needs, one needs to know the children.  This happens over time.  If there is a child in the classroom with undiagnosed ADHD, sensory deficits, or learning disabilities, these will often manifest themselves as inappropriate behaviors.  This happened for us this year.  We have a severely hearing impaired child who moved here from another state.  We were unaware at the beginning of the school year that we should expect some behavioral issues with this child as the hearing deficit had been addressed with cochlear implants and hearing aids.  As it turns out, this child had a set of problems related to delayed socio-emotional development. In our school, we have 2 volunteer school psychologists available to observe, to make recommendations for classroom and teacher interventions specific to the child’s issues, and to work with the parents to find resources for testing and treatment.  The child and the other children in the classroom accept that this child has issues, that he is working on his issues, and that we all need to work together to help him reach his learning goals for these specific issues.  It has been beautiful to watch the progress of the child and the adaptability of the community in dealing with the problem behaviors.

Just as an aside, because we are an alternative elementary school, we are expecting to have more than our share of children with special needs.  Our experience is, and we have been told, that parents of children with special needs will look to us as a possible choice of school.  One of the issues we are dealing with is where on the continuum we should draw the line in terms of admitting a child to our school.  Our small class sizes, multiage classrooms, and individualized educational approach make it easier to deal with some problems but we must be careful to look at the overall mix of abilities and deficits in the classroom so that we maintain an optimal learning environment for all.

Finally, just a little about a specific curriculum for teaching violence prevention.  The curriculum is called Second Step:  A Violence Prevention Curriculum.  We have the set for preschool/kindergarten.  Since we know that young children who show behavior problems, such as frequent aggression, have about a 50% chance of developing more serious problems in later childhood, it is really important to intervene early.  Skills such as empathy, emotion management (impulse control, regulation, anger management), and social problem solving can be taught and are important to learning, success in school, and later success in the workplace.  There are curricula for grades 1-3, 4-5, and middle school as well.  The material is taught to everyone, that is, there is not a group singled out as needing this learning but it is assumed that everyone can benefit from this curriculum.

The children at Chicago Friends School are currently learning empathy.  I have seen them practicing how to use the facial expressions of another as a key to how he/she is feeling.  They are also learning words that help them to tell the other children how they are feeling.  It feels good when you can explain how you are feeling and others understand.  I witnessed an episode this past week that amazed me.  Our youngest student is very sensitive to noise and is distressed when it gets too noisy.  I saw him put his hands over his ears and say in his loudest voice (which is a normal level for anyone else)”too loud” and then I saw the other children hear him and quiet down—all without any teacher intervention.  This child has made enormous progress in communicating how he is feeling and what he needs and the other children have grown in their ability to hear and respond to his expressed need.  I should explain that when I first came to the school in December, this child would curl up, avoid eye contact, and refuse to talk when things were disturbing him.  What a difference!

This curriculum is taught as a stand-alone lesson 20 minutes per week.  Needless to say, it is the constant living of the lesson that is helping all of the children with their social-emotional development. Our teachers have shown wonderful abilities in teaching in this area as well as the more traditional educational areas such as math and reading.

Great things are going on at the Chicago Friends School and we are all learning all the time.  If you would like to be a part of our school by volunteering your time and skills, even if you are limited to lunch and recess like this writer, let us know.  You can leave a message at 773-442-2371 or write to sophie☺