By Laura Williams
In the wake of the Newtown massacre, I grieved with shock along with the rest of our nation and world, but particularly with my fellow educators. The Monday after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I walked into my classroom and considered where I would hide my own students in the event of such unfathomable violence and I imagined cramming 18 students under the tables. To me, the space of my classroom was permanently changed.
After considering the physical space ramifications in the unlikely event of such an attack, I realized I had largely ignored the far greater issue at hand—preparing myself to tend to the worries, questions, and fears of a classroom full of 6th and 8th graders, for whom school had always been a safe haven. As they walked into class, their concerns echoed mine. “Where will we hide if it happens here, Ms. Williams?” As I tried to assuage their concerns and calm my students, I had a nagging feeling that we were leaving the critical questions undiscussed: Why do people resort to such terrible violence? How can we work together to prevent this from happening again? On a smaller scale, how can we create peace in our own classroom, school, and relationships? Certainly, these are the hard questions—much more difficult to sort through than a school safety plan.
In the face of such broad questions, it is difficult to know where to begin. Students must feel safe at their schools, and as adults we can reinforce their comfort with our calm presences and reassurances. However, this does not go far enough. To truly begin creating peace, we need to build schools where all students feel accepted and respected. Anti-bullying campaigns are a good place to start, but they are often retroactive in nature. Students should feel empowered to promote peaceful negotiations and relationships on their own terms.
A subcommittee of the Peace Studies Center recently met to refine the wording on the “Pieces of the Peace” puzzle, which will soon be developed into poster resources. The PSC Board hopes that educators can use these resources in their own classrooms to help students internalize the concept that a more peaceful world begins with their intentions, behavior, and outlook on themselves, their community, and their world. Truly, a more peaceful and just world begins with each child. Empowering students to see their own agency in this goal is a fundamental step in the journey.
Laura Williams joined the PSC Board in 2012. She is a middle school English and Literature teacher in the greater Baltimore area. Laura graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in English and Secondary Education. Her senior thesis, “From Entitlement to Stewardship: Children’s and Young Adult Literature of the Chesapeake Bay” explored the didactic quality of environmental children’s literature in the region. Laura combines her passion for literature, education, and environmentalism on the PSC Board and works to incorporate peace studies into her English curriculum as well as developing service-learning projects for her students that address the importance of peace in our modern schools and world.