Forgiveness Education: Example of the Second-Grade (Primary 4 in Belfast) Curriculum
A 17-lesson curriculum guide was written by a licensed psychologist and a developmental psychologist for the teachers’ use. Each lesson takes approximately 45 minutes or less and each occurs approximately once per week for the entire class. Additional activities in the guide are provided if a teacher wishes to extend the learning.
In the early years of the program, the teachers were introduced to the ideas of forgiveness and the curricular materials in a workshop directed by the authors of the curriculum or others associated with the project. We envision other methods as the work expands. Audios of the workshop, for example, may become available for download.
Forgiveness is taught by the classroom teachers primarily through the medium of story. Through stories such as Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, Cinderella, Dumbo, and Snow White, the children learn that conflicts arise and that we have a wide range of options to unfair treatment.
The curriculum guide is divided into three parts:
- First, the teacher introduces certain concepts that underlie forgiveness (the inherent worth of all people, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love), without mentioning the word forgiveness.
- In Part Two, the children hear stories in which the story characters display instances of inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love (or their opposites of unkindness, disrespect, and stinginess), toward another story character who was unjust.
- In Part Three, the teacher helps the children, if they choose, to apply the five principles toward a person who has hurt them.
Throughout the implementation of this program, teachers make the important distinction between learning about forgiveness and choosing to practice it in certain contexts. The program is careful to emphasize the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. A child does not reconcile with someone who is potentially harmful, for example. The teachers impress upon the children that the exercises in Part Three of forgiving are not mandatory, but completely optional.
The first-grade curriculum is similar to this one with the exception of the choice of stories. In first grade, the centerpiece stories are from Dr. Seuss.
From Enright, R.D., Knutson, J, & Holter, A. (2006). “Turning from hatred to community friendship: Forgiveness education in post-accord Belfast” – Presented at the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, November 7, 2006.
I have reconciled with my partner and I think I have forgiven him. Yet, at times, I think about his original unfaithfulness and it makes me angry all over again. Am I only fooling myself in thinking that I truly have forgiven?
The late Lewis Smedes wrote that forgiveness is an imperfect process for imperfect people. Feeling anger again does not necessarily mean that you have not forgiven. People can forgive and still have anger that rises and falls depending on the situation. If you are in control of the anger and are willing to forgive now on a deeper level, then you have forgiven.
Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.
How can you create a forgiving community for oppressed people? Don’t you first have to validate the injustices by solving them? Forgiveness without such validity seems weak.
One can validate oppression by acknowledging it and calling it what it is: unfair. One can own one’s legitimate anger over the oppression. Yet, if one waits to actually solve the injustice before forgiving, then those who are oppressing win twice: once with original and ongoing oppression and second by having the oppressed people living under a constant state of unhealthy anger or resentment. That resentment, over time, might be so strong as to destroy individuals and families within that oppressed community. Forgiveness without a correction of the injustice at the very least solves that one problem of destructive resentment.
Learn more at Healing Hearts, Building Peace.
Is it realistic to engage in the forgiveness process when reconciliation is impossible?
If a person chooses to forgive, then it not only is realistic but possibly healthy for the forgiver. Forgiveness need not be perfect in that one person forgives, the other repents and changes, and now there is harmony. One goal of forgiving is to hold out the hope of reconciliation, but this does not necessarily occur for forgiveness to be morally good and psychologically worthwhile. One can forgive, for example, to rid oneself of resentment even when reconciliation is not possible.
Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .
I am in an unfortunate situation at work. My boss is overbearing to such an extent that I no longer want to work here. Yet, because of my current circumstances, I cannot leave my position. If I seek justice from the boss, I could be fired. So, what do you recommend?
When we forgive, we do not necessarily get the best result of a whole and fair relationship. If you forgive your boss, which I do recommend if you are ready, then at the very least, your resentment can lessen and so your inner world will not be as disrupted as it might have been. The forgiving may help you to have sufficient energy to apply for other positions if this opportunity arises. Even without justice in the workplace, you are taking steps to guard your inner world.
Learn more at What is Forgiveness?