The School as Forgiving Community
How can we pass forgiveness to subsequent generations? We began asking that question in our blog post The Ripple Effect on April 10, 2012. We answered in part through our post about the ‘family as a forgiving community’ (April 14, 2012). We continue here with a focus on schools as transmitters of forgiveness knowledge and practice.
Our group began forgiveness education in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2002, as a preventive approach to emotional and relational healing for people in contentious regions of the world. Our intent in the short-run is to reduce resentment, which can build up in children who are faced with continual injustices in their immediate environments. Our intent in the long-run is to equip students with such a deep knowledge and practice of forgiveness that they can and will effectively implement forgiveness in their homes, places of worship, jobs, communities, and even the wider community which includes those with whom they are experiencing conflict. It is our expectation that such deep knowledge and practice of forgiveness will go far in mending conflicts, even those which have been entrenched in communities for centuries.
We began with first grade (Primary 3 in Belfast) classrooms because from a developmental perspective it is here that children begin to think logically, in terms of causes and consequences, and simple deductions. We have the classroom teacher spend about one hour per week for about 12 weeks in teaching forgiveness through stories, such as Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who in which a kindly elephant saves an entire village of tiny Whos because, as Horton knows and constantly proclaims throughout the book, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
We decided to extend the development of the teacher guides through the end of post-primary school, a 12-year project. Perhaps the students who grow into adulthood with forgiveness as a continual companion will develop an ability to dialogue more deeply and effectively with “the other side.” Forgiveness, properly understood and practiced by some heroic adults, could change the face of Ireland and Northern Ireland.