“Is it possible to teach English so that people stop killing each other?”
When a professor dropped this question into a colloquium for young college teachers in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, most people shuffled their feet. For Mary Rose O’Reilley it was a question that would not go away; The Peaceable Classroom records one attempt to answer it. Out of her own experience, primarily as a college English teacher, she writes about certain moral connections between school and the outside world, making clear that the kind of environment created in the classroom determines a whole series of choices students make in the future, especially about issues of peace and justice.
Animated throughout by the spirit of the personal essayist, The Peaceable Classroom first defines a pedagogy of nonviolence and then analyzes certain contemporary approaches to rhetoric and literary studies in light of nonviolent theory. The pedagogy of Ken Macrorie, Peter Elbow, and the National Writing Project is examined. The author emphasizes that many techniques taken for granted in contemporary writing pedagogy – such as freewriting and journaling – are not just educational fads, but rather ways of shaping a different human being. “Finding voice,” then, is not only an aspect of writing process, but a spiritual event as well. To find voice, and to mediate personal voice in a community of others, is one of the central dialectics of the peaceable classroom.
The author urges teachers to foster critical encounters with the intellectual and spiritual traditions of humankind and to reclaim the revolutionary power of literature to change things.