________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 13 . . . . February 28, 2003


The Peaceful School: Models That Work.

Hetty van Gurp.
Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press, 2002.
115 pp., pbk., $24.00.
ISBN 1-55379-000-6.

Subject Headings:
School violence-Prevention.
Conflict management.


Review by Gary Evans.

**** /4

This is Hetty van Gurp’s second book about ways to resolve conflict and violence in schools. The author’s experience as a principal and her extensive travelling to such places as Macedonia, Serbia and Northern Ireland give her the background to write such a book. The League of Peaceful Schools was established in Nova Scotia in 1998, and since then the League has been established in Saskatchewan to help build a national support system. The book is based on the mission statement of Peaceful Schools International (that was formed by the author after the rapid growth of the League of Peaceful Schools in Canada): “to provide support to schools throughout the world that have declared a commitment to creating and maintaining a culture of peace” (from the “Foreword”).

     The book is published at an appropriate time when the present-day world situation calls for advocates to educate for peace, human rights and democracy. To move from acknowledging these principles to generating practical applications in the classroom is often challenging. UNESCO in 1995 approved the Declaration and Integrated Framework of Action on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy. For more information about this framework, it is available online at: www.unesco.org/education/nfsunesco/pdf/REV-74-E.PDF

     The purpose of this book is to suggest innovative practices and strategies to ensure that the above document and other ones like it are used to teach the children in our classrooms the attitudes, knowledge and skills that are needed to live well together. This book could be used in conjunction with Peer Mediation: The Complete Guide to Resolving Conflict in Our Schools by the same author. Peace cannot be achieved by simply wishing for it, or writing tough policies such as Zero Tolerance, or mandating it. To create a culture of peace within our school communities, we must teach peace. In this book, many suggestions are given in how to teach the skills as well as how to model peaceful ways of learning and living together.

     The author uses a story called “Stone Soup” to show how schools could be encouraged to formulate their own special blend of “ingredients” in creating a culture of peace. “Stone Soup” is a story about a hungry traveller who has had nothing to eat for a long while. He asks various people if they could share any of their food with him, and he is always turned away until he finds a person who only has some water to share. The traveller stated that he would then be able to make some stone soup over the fire. He added a stone that he had carried with him for a long time. As more people heard about the soup, they gathered around the fire asking questions about the taste of it. The traveller stated that it would taste better if it had different ingredients in it, and the other people began to add other ingredients such as onions, carrots, and potatoes. They were amazed at what they had created, and they all enjoyed the feast. The point of the story in regards to teaching peace is that, if you work together, you can make a difference and create something wonderful from your own blend of ingredients.

     The main part of the book is devoted to describing many different innovative practices in 20 different model schools, mostly in Nova Scotia; however, one is from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and two are from Florida. Activities include such ideas as Radio P.E.A.C.E. where acts of kindness and people who have been kind and helpful are recognized. The book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, and the making of the paper cranes (directions included) are used to promote peace and acts or deeds of kindness in the school. Pledges that include ones about not using their voices to hurt, ridicule, belittle, or bully anyone are used to make everyone aware of verbal abuse. Name-calling and verbal bullying regularly precede physical violence. If the pledge is taken and then practiced during the day, the student’s name on a badge is displayed on the classroom wall. If their voice is used in a violent way, then their badge is removed from the wall for the day. The author suggests many ideas for creating peaceful schools, such as sunflower gardens, monthly themes such as Respect, poems about Peace, using restorative justice to help re-examine traditional punitive responses to crime, making origami animals, making a peaceful alphabet, using Peer Meditation, having a Play Fair Day with an accompanying Fair Play Oath, plus using a Bully Proofing bulletin board idea that states what the peaceful school looks like, feels like and sounds like.

     The appendices can be photocopied for classroom use and include a school planning document to be used for the peaceful school initiative. The plan offers key questions to be asked of all the participants in the school, space for the school mission and vision statements, school profile, school goals, school-wide prevention strategies and intervention services/approaches for at-risk students. School divisions require such planning documents from schools, and this document offers some very good suggestions as to what should be included. Also in the appendices is a list of conferences that could be planned for the students in the school to help them work more effectively together. The list includes: bullying, peer pressure, stereotyping, and youth crime. Also included is a performance piece of 32 speeches about “Peace Begins With You” and a booklet of seven pages entitled “Peace Begins With Me” that has sentence starters and questions about peace and violence so that students have the opportunity to write their own thoughts and ideas about these topics.

     When I was teaching, I talked about peace and violence around Remembrance Day in November because it seemed that that was the time it was most relevant. In reading this book, I found that the whole idea of peace should not only be a school-wide focus, but that the discussions, activities and strategies discussed in the book should occur all year long if we are committed to creating a safe learning environment for our students. I appreciated the fact that the strategies and activities included in the book are integrated using all the subjects included in the school program. Writing, reading (literature, poetry), listening, speaking, viewing, representing, Art, Drama, studying various cultures (Social Studies), Music, Science are all involved in the ideas that are presented. Using these strategies, as many schools have found, may reduce conflict by as much as 80 per cent. This is very good, and we know that it will be an ongoing process to teach about peace as the present world situation unfolds. This book is a very useful tool to help us teach our children how to live well together and how to become responsible citizens.

Highly Recommended.

Gary Evans is a retired primary teacher who is now teaching Social Studies to teacher candidates at both the University of Manitoba (Early Years and Middle Years, Year 1) and Early Years, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at the University of Winnipeg.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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