New, Just Published Curriculum Guide – THE COURAGE TO FORGIVE: EDUCATING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN ABOUT FORGIVENESS
Grade school educators, counselors, and homeschooling parents now have a new resource available to help teach their 4th and 5th grade students (ages 9-12) about forgiveness. Serving either as a Social-Emotional Learning or a Character-Education curriculum, the focus is on what forgiveness is, is not, what forgiveness looks like, and the basic concepts associated with forgiveness, including kindness, empathy, perspective-taking, and healthy expression of anger.
The Courage to Forgive: Educating Elementary School Children About Forgiveness uses children’s literature and incorporates the latest social-emotional learning (SEL) and character education principles into its 16-lessons. Each lesson in the 64-page guide is approximately 45-minutes in length and lessons include a variety of activities for students to complete, group and individual discussion questions to reflect on and answer, and even an opportunity for students to write their own book about forgiveness. One life-long teacher was so impressed after previewing the guide that she called it her “character education handbook.”
This new curriculum includes the model of forgiveness developed by Dr. Robert Enright, as well as techniques honed by Dr. Suzanne Freedman during her 2015 research with 5th grade students in a racially-diverse Midwestern school. Selected children’s books, such as, The Forgiveness Garden by Lauren Thompson, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester are used to teach and illustrate forgiveness and related concepts. Book summaries and online videos of the books are included with the curriculum guide.
As stated by Dr. Freedman in the introduction to the curriculum, “It is hard for students to forgive if they don’t know about forgiveness or see examples of it. The children’s literature used in this curriculum illustrates what forgiveness looks like, what’s involved in forgiving and the impact of forgiveness for both the characters who do the forgiving and those who receive it.
“Helping students develop empathy toward others is a key strategy not only in character-building but in bullying prevention and intervention,” according to Dr. Freedman. “It is critical that we help kids develop empathy early in their lives and this curriculum guide is a great way to do that. Plus, the short sessions using children’s literature are fun for the kids so they are eager to learn.”
Although this curriculum was written specifically with 4th and 5th grade students in mind, it can be used with older (middle school students) or younger students, since activities can be modified as necessary. Even adults will find the curriculum helpful in their understanding and practice of forgiveness.
“SEL programs are being recognized as an important part of the school curriculum for all students,” Dr. Freedman adds. “In this guide, SEL is incorporated with Forgiveness Education in order to teach students how to recognize and express anger and other emotions in a healthy way, understand the perspective of others, and recognize the humanity in all.”
The following quote illustrates how one 5th grade student benefited from learning about forgiveness:
“I like forgiveness because it helps me learn how to forgive people. Before forgiveness I was mean and rude to people- I learned to forgive people. I had a lot of anger before but since you came here- I learned to control my anger and calm myself down!”
For more information about the curriculum, read the full 15-page introduction to the guide.
For more information about the research behind this curriculum guide, read The Impact of Using Children’s Literature to Teach 5th Graders about Forgiveness.
It seems to me that when I forgive, I should forget or put the whole thing behind me. Yet, I am not entirely letting go of what happened. I am no longer angry, but I do find myself going back and remembering what happened. What do you suggest?
When we forgive, we do not necessarily forget all of the details of what happened. In other words, we remember in new ways, but without the burning anger. This seems to be what is happening with you. Now you look back without the anger. This is a triumph. If, when you look back, you are emotionally upset in some way (perhaps sadness rather than anger), then go through the forgiveness process again with the same person. This should help with the more recent emotion and reduce the sense of going back in your mind to any unfinished business with the forgiveness process.
We all need some time off from hard work and forgiving can be hard work. It is not dishonorable to suspend the forgiveness process for a while as you rest. Once rested, try to focus on what I call the strong will. This is your inner resource of knowing that you need to persevere. With the energy garnered from the rest, try now to put some of that renewed energy back into the forgiveness process.
Is it possible that a person will not feel emotional relief at all when engaging in the forgiveness process?
The change in feelings from deep anger to more inner quiet does take time. Some people tell me that their anger does not necessarily go away entirely, but that the anger is no longer controlling them. If a person remains deeply angry after more than a few months of working on forgiveness, I usually ask this: Is there someone else in your life who somehow is reminding you of the one you are forgiving? For example, suppose you are trying to forgive your male friend and he has very similar patterns to your father. If you still have a lot of forgiveness work to do with your father, this can be getting in the way of forgiving the friend. This is the case because of how your feelings toward your father are spilling over to your feelings toward the friend. At that point, I usually ask the person to suspend forgiving the friend and to first focus on forgiving the father. Once the person forgives the father, then the feelings toward the father will no longer be interfering with the forgiveness process toward the friend. It is then that a true experience of emotional relief may begin to be present.
A soaringly insightful essay entitled, “The Fading of Forgiveness,” by the Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Timothy Keller, appeared in the May, 2021 issue of Comment magazine. Rev. Keller uses a series of quotations to make his point that the moral virtue of forgiving is fading in modern Western culture. The quotations can be summarized this way: Forgiving allows oppressors to dominate you. So, do not forgive. Otherwise, you will stay oppressed.
In other words, the call to forgive is seen as a trick by oppressors to keep the oppressed forgiving and therefore more continually oppressed. If the oppressed are convinced that they must forgive, with no choice in the matter, and if they are taught to think in either/or ways (they must either forgive or seek justice, but never both), then the critics of forgiveness have a good point. Yet, they are wrong in their understanding of what forgiveness actually is. The harsh critics of forgiveness need good forgiveness education to realize that forgiving is a choice, not a commanded law that must be done, and that the moral virtues of forgiving and justice can and should occur together.
Another wise article, this one by Dr. Kari Konkola, appeared in Humanitas magazine in 2019, “What Psychology Might Learn from Traditional Christianity.” As with Rev. Keller, who is seeing the demise of forgiveness, Dr. Konkola sees the demise of humility in modern Western culture. This is the case because of similar themes echoed by Rev. Keller. There is a rise in emphasis on justice apart from mercy which leads to excessive cries of injustice, excessive accusations of oppression with concomitant increases in anger and rage, divisions and acrimony, and a decided lack of an appreciation of reconciliation, harmony, and a working toward a genuine common good.
The cause, he argues, is a rise in pridefulness which may have origins in our genes, with the evolutionary tendency toward dominating others through the genetic mechanism of the survival of the fittest. For Dr. Konkola, and many Christian thinkers in the 15th through the 17th centuries, the antidote for this oppressing and self-interested activity is the now-faded moral virtue of humility. Humility restores the practice and the valuing of forgiving and inspires the reawakening of the call to the common good, now being lost as people strive to be better than others, to dominate others.
When we put these two articles together, we see a common theme discussed by both authors: Christian teaching in its ancient form was a call to forgiveness and humility, not to be dominated or to dominate, but instead to spread love to others, for the common good, for harmony among people so that we all work together to end oppression, to end others’ sorrow.
If both authors are correct, then deep Christian education needs to embrace forgiveness education, with its emphasis on love and humility as the forgivers, in suffering for their oppressor, offer the hand of potential harmony to those who misbehave. Good forgiveness education instructs students that they must not abandon the quest for justice when they exercise mercy. Good forgiveness education does not over-emphasize the “therapeutic” culture (that forgiving only is for the forgiver) but goes more deeply into the insight that forgiving in its essence is a decision to love and to engage in loving actions toward someone who was not loving toward the forgiver.
“Forgiving is a choice, not a commanded law that must be done; the moral virtues of forgiving and justice can and should occur together.”
Dr. Robert Enright
Are forgiving and humility fading in modern Western culture? Perhaps it is time for educational leaders and parents to galvanize their wisdom and energy to provide this kind of education for the children. Then let the children lead the revival of these central virtues that can thwart ideologies of power-over-others. Let the children learn through forgiveness education that the means of love and humility eventually lead to a better world than do the means of cultural revolution and destruction, which are devoid of such love and humility.
For example, the Catholic community with its worldwide schools seems particularly positioned for such forgiveness education. Implementing forgiveness in these schools on a worldwide basis just might reawaken a world which is starting to fall asleep to forgiveness and humility. Our International Forgiveness Institute already has constructed 17 forgiveness curriculum guides for students from age 4 to age 18, including an anti-bullying guide and two curriculum guides for parents.
Using those guides, Forgiveness Education has been implemented successfully in Greece, Iran, Israel, Liberia, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Turkey, the United States and other countries. A more concentrated effort by the educational leaders and parents could be the beginning of a revolution of quiet and gentleness and love, in contrast to the tired ideologies of meeting unfairness only with anger and resistance and fire and destruction.
What will win: the genes calling for the survival of the fittest or the grace to overcome these by learning to love and forgive and then finding the path to justice for all? Once they have accurately learned about forgiveness, and if they so choose to forgive, then let the children lead us.
- Humility: What Can It Do for You?
- Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides
- The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program
- Curriculum Guides for Parents