In September 2006, Dawson College faced what all too many other schools have – a shooting on its campus that cost the life of a young student at the beginning of her studies and injured sixteen others. Since then, the college community has undertaken a number of peace-building initiatives, including the construction of a beautiful garden designed to promote the connections between peace and sustainability and organizing in 2011 an international conference that examined the role of education in the prevention of violence.
Recently, the college has launched an educational website Inspire Solutions, developed by a faculty member from Dawson’s humanities department. The site offers educators and students a resource of research materials, thought-provoking videos and valuable links, as well as examples of successful violence prevention initiatives and pedagogical ideas that build knowledge, encourage reflection and inspire solutions to the problem of violence. Underlying this initiative is the premise that a commitment to foster peace and nonviolence within our schools needs to be an institutional-wide project that shapes larger school practices, as well as how and what we teach across the disciplines. It identifies five goals for such a commitment: to challenge the cynicism of popular culture by building a curriculum that reveals the human capacity for empathy, compassion and forgiveness; to directly challenge the extent to which violence is normalized in our culture and encourage us to reflect on our often ambivalent attitudes towards violence; to build knowledge on the roots of violence; to foster empathy and responsibility, as well as an understanding of the power of the bystander; and to develop institutional practices and promote pedagogies that reflect the values of respect, inclusiveness and nonviolence.
The site’s resources draw attention to the interrelationships between different forms of violence and address the problem of violence both within our schools and local communities, as well as at the global level. There are resources on such topics as bullying, the causes of violence, and restorative justice in schools, as well as on the pedagogical practices and content ideas that can be integrated across the curriculum to promote peace and nonviolence.
The site has also launched a blog which posts an e-newsletter several times a year on particular themes with the goal of fostering an ongoing conversation within Dawson and hopefully beyond about the problem of violence, while further developing the peace education curriculum. The first newsletter focused on empathy, and showcased articles that asked whether empathy can really be taught in the classroom and examined how the study of science can promote empathy. The next issue looked at the provocative issue of violent video games and called on us all to take the messages of video games seriously, while offering classroom resources on how to begin a class discussion. The Inspire Solutions project is currently issuing a call for submissions – articles, videos, cartoons, comics and art work – that address our tendency to devalue those we deem “different”. Further issues are being considered on such themes as forgiveness and reconciliation, peace and sports, and the power of shame.
This article was written by Pat Romano at Dawson College in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.