Brian Leonard Reflects on Social Justice Happy Hour

Here's a report from Brian Leonard, who shared with us at the October 19th Social Justice Happy Hour his experiment with peace practices in his public school classroom: 

About 15-20 people attended the Social Justice Forum at the Sahara Restaurant, which offered the best Mediterranean vegetarian cuisine offered by Farid Aoude and his kind family. It was a warm, friendly place to gather, share food, and learn from peace workers in the community. I attempted to present a few concrete classroom actions educators can practice as ways to start building a culture of peace in our schools...It is necessary to also recognize the many layers of violence in our cultures, institutions, workplaces, and schools. Within this culture of violence, there are actions we can promote to create a culture of peace in resistance to the culture of violence. I argued that promoting peace is an act of resistance to the prevailing (hegemonic) culture of violence. Peace as resistance is challenging for educators who are confronted with tyrannical mandates (excessive/continuous testing, zero tolerance policies that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline, etc.), bullying bosses, and overwork due to short-staffing. At least 20 out of the 2-300 students on my floor appeared in court last year—Worcester has for years had once of the highest rates of suspending Latinos in the nation—while also suspending students with learning disabilities at an excessive rate. When the schools are short-staffed by over 600 teachers according to the Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission, a bipartisan government study on the inadequate funding of public schools. I discussed some ways that educators and their unions, in concert with the community, promoted fully-funded peace practices from the “bottom-up”—in solidarity/grassroots movements. In order to be fully functional, restorative peace and justice must be fully supported with training, funding, time, staffing, etc. Top-down mandates to educators and students manifest as another duty to an already over-burdening workload. When educators and students are not supported by dedicated programming, staffing, support, etc. peace practices do not always work. It will take time, effort, and a commitment to building a culture of peace that will bring forth the fruits of our work for peace and justice.

Other peace workers were able to share their thoughts and experiences in reflecting on this issue. One of the re-emerging questions was: what prevents or blocks educators and others from promoting peace practices in schools? While the event ended at 7pm, a few “peace-riders” stayed for a couple of more hours. Participants felt a great need for the support of a forum to cultivate a fledgling culture of peace in our communities. One person was not able to share, but expressed great interest and a willingness to speak for an hour on this issue. Others who stayed left their contact information for their interest in developing peace forums. We all look forward to hearing the stories of the peer mediators on November 30.