The other day, as part of our colonialism unit in World History, I asked my students to write about which they believe is more powerful, violence or non-violence. My intention was to start us all thinking about strategies for social change before we read Gandhi’s essay “My Faith in Nonviolence.” This was followed up over the next several days with excerpts from the film Gandhi and excerpts from the film Battle of Algiers as students compared nonviolent versus violent means of resisting colonial occupation and struggling for independence. The unit will culminate in students designing and presenting their own proposals for museum exhibits about colonialism.
I secretly hoped that students would respond to the initial question with insights about the power of nonviolence and the deeper, lasting changes that result from nonviolent campaigns. Because we live in the city, the country, and the world that we do, this did not happen.
Students shared thoughts and another student took notes on the board as I struggled against the tiny voice screaming inside of me. This voice wanted to contest points, give examples, and challenge ideas. Instead I nodded, I helped students summarize, and I asked for clarifications.
Too often the image of teaching involves knowledge being transferred from a wise one to a younger person who lacks wisdom and experience. The past several days have been a poignant reminder for me that education is a process.
Learning and transformation happen when people are free to try out ideas, take in information, and then reevaluate assumptions and experiences. When learning is organic in these ways, the final outcomes far exceed what anyone can script or inculcate.