Peace in Our Time – Peace in Our Classrooms

The well being of our grandchildren is directly linked to the well being of our enemy's grandchildren.

John Paul Lederach, author The Moral Imagination – TheArt and Soul of Building Peace

Empathy makes our world go around. It helps people to relate, share, include and cooperate. It helps children grow into caring and responsible parents and citizens. It can stop wars and prevent genocides.

Mary Gordon, Co-Founder and President, Roots of Empathy

Mary Gordon has a vision to change the world by putting babies to work – in the classroom.  No doubt you have heard or read about her work.  It is infectious.  David Bornstein in his recent New York Times article about Mary titled, Fighting Bullying With Babies, describes babies in the classroom as, 'heart softening magnets.' 

Here's how this heart work, works.  Beginning in September a mother and her 2 – 4 month old baby visit an elementary classroom at least once a month until the end of the school year.  The children (K-8) are led in a conversation by a Roots of Empathy trained facilitator to observe the baby's development and to label the baby's feelings.  Here is Mary's insight and genius: describing these feelings and emotions is the start of emotional literacy.  "Empathy can't be taught but it can be caught" she adds,

The baby sparks awareness among the children about their own feelings and the feelings of others.  As the children become more conversant with the language of feelings (empathy) they are less likely to physically, psychologically and emotionally hurt each other through bullying and other cruelties.

These mother and child classroom reunions are complemented by further visits by the Roots of Empathy instructor and a comprehensive curriculum adjusted for the ages and grades of the children.

It works.  And they can prove it.  Mary has been zealous about research and evaluation. something many social innovators overlook or short circuit.  Not Mary.

Independent evaluations consistently show children who participate in Roots of Empathy classrooms, experience dramatic and lasting effects in terms of increased positive social behaviour (sharing, helping and including) and decreased aggression.

Twelve thousand plus Canadian classrooms later, Mary has become an international ambassador for peace by inspiring and nurturing empathy and emotional literacy.  Jeremy Rivkin acknowledged her work in his new book, The Empathic Civilization.  This past September Mary spoke about emotional literacy at the UN's International Literacy Day  along with former First Lady, Laura Bush. 

When the world agrees to put an end to war, Mary and her babies will be part of that pantheon.

Listen to Serena Ryder's version of Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream and spare a moment to honour the men and women whose bodies, minds, souls and spirits were wounded or extinguished while at war.  Short days ago they were children and grandchildren, felt dawn, saw sunset glow; loved and were loved.

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream
words and music by Ed McCurdy

Last night I had the strangest dream
I'd ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war

I dreamed I saw a mighty room
Filled with women and men
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again

And when the paper was all signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful pray'rs were prayed

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing 'round and 'round
While swords and guns and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I'd never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

TRO-©1950,1951 & 1955 Almanac Music, Inc.
New York, N.Y. Copyrights renewed
Used by permission

I would also like to acknowledge the late Katharine Pearson's birthday on November 11th. She was at the forefront of Canada's social innovation agenda. We miss her terribly.


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