Reflections on Promoting Peace in the English Language Classroom

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

I recently read a list of astounding stories of nonviolence by the Huffington PostOne of the stories happened just last year.  In Sweden, a Muslim woman was senselessly beaten and her hijab was torn off.  She was pregnant.  Reacting to this unacceptable act of extreme violence, both Muslim and non-Muslim women posted photos of themselves in hijabs on social media websites as an act of solidarity and nonviolent resistance to hate.

This story hits home for me because most of my students are Muslim and some of my brightest and hardest-working students are women who wear a hijab or who may also wear a niqab.  I wonder what it’s like for them to peruse the shops at the Easton mall.  Do people stare?  Are they treated differently?  I wonder what I can do.

Amy Faeth and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS

Amy Faeth and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS
Photo courtesy of Maria del Mar Aponte

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Tomorrow, I will talk with my students about his historical importance and his legacy.  We’ll discuss the term “nonviolent resistance” and I’ll teach it as vocabulary, focusing on understanding the prefix “non” and the root word “resist.”  My students are bright thinkers.  I hope they’ll go beyond the lesson and think about how this word applies to them.

Most of my students come from Arabic speaking countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, the UAE, and Yemen.  The prevalence of violence is not foreign to them.  They have friends and relatives in Syria.  They have experienced the unrest in Libya.  They wonder what they should do.  Maybe King’s words of love and peace can be used to heal the wounds in their homelands.

I also teach students from China, one of the most powerful countries in the world with one of the most oppressive national governments.  Perhaps my students are interested in King’s strength and determination.

Every day I wonder how to promote peace in my classroom.  Whether it’s by creating a non-competitive environment, promoting respect for every individual’s ideas, or actively encouraging authentic discussions about world conflicts, teachers have a real opportunity to make a difference through their words and actions in their classrooms.  What we do actually matters.

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS Photo courtesy of Maria del Mar Aponte

Gwendolyn G. Derosa and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS
Photo courtesy of Maria del Mar Aponte

I want to hear from you.  What stories do you have about peace and nonviolence?  How do you promote equality in the classroom?  Do you encourage authentic discussions or teach students about international people of peace?  Post your comments here and let’s keep this discussion going.

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