Attack Problems, Not People

by Robin Wildman, Executive Director, Nonviolent Schools RI

In recent weeks we have witnessed yet another school shooting in Parkland, and other school shootings since then. The use of weapons to terrorize and kill students and educators in what should be safe places has left the members of America’s school communities on edge, wondering if their place of learning is next. Regular drill practices for active shooters on campus, and the graphic social media representations of what happened in Parkland, has increased the anxiety of even our youngest children.

As a public school teacher for 27 years, and the Executive Director of Nonviolent Schools RI ( I am convinced now, more than ever, that there is something we can do to create a “new normal”–one that emphasizes nonviolence over violence, love over hate, and a set of nonviolence-based values that are the glue that holds a peaceful school community together. The work that I do with Nonviolent Schools RI focuses on teaching nonviolent strategies to reconcile conflicts, and six principles that, when followed, help build a Beloved Community in a school. Yes, I support a massive change in our gun legislation. But that, alone, is not the answer. In combination with gun law reform, we need to require districts to look at the way that their schools function. I advocate for restructuring the traditional, punitive system of discipline. In contrast, the nonviolent schools we are creating work on rehabilitative methods, such as written reflections by the perpetrator of violence, reteaching of nonviolence strategies, creating a reconciliation plan to repair the relationship that has been harmed, etc. Equally important is the way that Nonviolent Schools RI helps educators create peaceful learning environments. Improving the climate and culture in a school uplifts all who are members of the community, and helps to send a message that everyone in community is included and loved.

To the youth today who say they have had enough, who are saying “Not one more,” who are rising up to change the tide of violence–you strengthen my hope that change is coming. The students across America are already practicing nonviolent skills and following an important principle: Attack problems, not people. Despite vicious personal attacks, the students from Parkland continue to rise above the vitriol and remain focused on their goals. As they move forward with their movement, the most challenging part might be maintaining their personal commitment to the cause. They have several factors in their favor. First, they have each other. As long as they can continue to support each other, and keep their goals in mind when public speaking and posting on social media, they will continue to feel strengthened by each other and their followers. Also, they must know by now that tens of thousands of adults in America support and admire the work they have done thus far. As they have already begun to do, creating a movement centered on nonviolence means that the people on the top (government) need to recognize that those on the bottom (students) have valuable resources to offer (voting power, strength in numbers), and those on the bottom should realize that the top has something to offer (the power to change laws). By working together, the top and the bottom can create a Beloved Community, which is the goal of nonviolent organizing.

Developing nonviolent schools that teach students how to reconcile conflicts, using strategies grounded in the practice of nonviolence, is an essential component to meeting the challenge the Parkland students have put forth to all of us: “Not one more.”

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Robin Wildman