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April 2000 - Issue No. #38

Words CAN Really Hurt You!

by Donna McInnis

Soka University, Tokyo

If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war,
we shall have to begin with the children.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Journal Entry - April 29, 1999:
Something is very wrong. Just over a week ago, two young boys walked into a high school in Colorado and killed thirteen people, then turned the guns on themselves. A week later, a young boy in Alberta, Canada walked into a school, killed one boy and seriously injured another. A girl who knew the shooter said tearfully "He wasn't very popular and most kids were really rude to him. I always felt bad for him... but I was rude to him sometimes too. And I think that's one of the reasons...". When I heard this, I asked myself, "What did she mean, 'rude'?". Did the other kids taunt and tease him, did they make fun of him whenever he was in earshot? What kinds of cruel remarks would prompt a child to kill other children? Here in Japan, our young children are killing themselves... leaving behind letters revealing that they could no longer bear the mean words and cruel actions of their classmates who bullied them...

We have heard these stories increasingly in the past few years and we adults, teachers and parents ask "Why?". "Why did this happen?" "Why didn't we see it coming?" "How could we have missed the signs?" Others say "Well, that's just (junior) high-school... kids are mean... it's just a phase that they all have to go through".

What I found interesting from the girl's remarks about the boy in Alberta was that she was just now, after a terrible tragedy, thinking about the effect of her words on this other human being. So much of our focus has been on the physical violence that is all around us. Not enough attention has been paid to "emotional violence" (Schmidt, 1999): put downs, labeling, threats, exclusion, and injustice. These behaviors hurt in more subtle ways but the hurt is deep nonetheless. These behaviors more often than not lead to physical violence.

As language teaching professionals, this is an area where we just may have a chance to have some influence. We have got to begin to teach language in a way that helps our students become aware of the power of their words; how the words that they choose to use can contribute to building positive relationships, to mend and to heal, or how they can have quite the opposite effect, destroying relationships, causing pain, emotional devastation and anger.

The Linguapax III Final Document 1991 states that it is time "to instill new life and an ethical meaning into language teaching taking into consideration the needs of our time". Before we can teach our young to communicate across cultures, we have to address their need to communicate with their inner voices, to gain an understanding of who they are, to value their uniqueness, to feel good about themselves. Then they need to learn to communicate with the children sharing their classroom, to celebrate the diversity that exists in that safe, peaceful environment (which must also be developed)

This involves nurturing self-awareness, and self-esteem, respect, empathy, kindness, and caring. It involves teaching our young a whole new way of communicating and being with others. It calls for the creation of a pedagogy of peace in the language classroom, which rather than simply focusing on communicative competence as a goal, aims to teach communicative peace (Gomes de Matos, 1991, 1992, 1998; Freudenstein, 1993; Raasch, 1993, 1997).

This notion of communicative peace assumes a more holistic approach to language teaching that emphasizes the connection between feelings, attitudes, behavior and language (Birch, 1994, 1995; Raasch, 1997) and gives priority to an all round development of personality and character. Increasingly, language educators are committed to the belief that the teaching of caring communication skills is crucial in both native and foreign language classrooms and that "critical language education should be included as a part of global citizenship education" (Wenden, 1995).

A Course in Caring Communication

In her book, "The Challenge to Care in Schools", Nel Noddings (1996) argues that the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people - emotionally intelligent people (Goleman, 1996). Noddings suggests we need to engage our young in a general education that is organized around themes of caring for self; intimate others; global others; plants, animals, and the environment; the human-made world, and ideas.

It is important for our young people to experience peace to realize that it is possible to create a culture of peace. By creating classrooms and schools that are functioning, caring communities, and by modeling for them peaceful, caring behavior, we give our learners a very powerful message. In what the organization Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) calls "The Peaceable Classroom", six themes are emphasized: cooperation, caring communication, the appreciation of diversity, the appropriate expression of feelings, responsible decision making and conflict resolution (Kreidler, 1984, 1990, 1995, 1997a, 1997b; Lantieri & Patti, 1996; Levin, 1994; Miller-Lieber, 1994, 1998). Having students work together in this viable, productive system helps to develop the capacity to care and instills in them hope for their future. As Reardon (1996) so beautifully points out:

Caring is an active investment and kind of twin to hope. Both elements are essential to the abilities to be responsible, to act toward the effectuation of change, to move against injustice, to protest against and intervene in the degradation of the environment. We hope to help learners develop those abilities. We hope to help learners become responsible, having the capacity to respond actively and effectively, to live out a commitment to the common future.

The ability to communicate in a positive, caring way is one of the necessary skills needed to take effective steps toward creating a peaceful global culture. Young people need to learn to use language in ways that help to avoid conflicts, settle disputes, and bring about reconciliation (Raasch, 1993), to "build up", rather than to "break down". Francisco Gomes de Matos (1998) emphasizes that this constructive nature of communication has been left implicit and that we need to make it explicit. In an attempt to do this, I have created a language curriculum organized around Noddings' themes of caring with a strong emphasis on the caring communication skills highlighted in all conflict resolution programs (eg. Cohen, 1996; Kreidler, 1984, 1990, 1995, 1997a, 1997b; Miller-Lieber, 1994; 1998)

In all my curriculum activities, kindness and respect are key components. Early activities aim to empower students. They are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning, to make classroom guidelines that enhance learning, to appreciate and listen to one another, to share their dreams. These activities aim to affirm each students' uniqueness and to build trust. "Warm-up" time may take a few days or weeks.

But this is a crucial phase in developing a caring dynamic. Sharing with one another is very important to the ongoing nurturing of active listening, empathy, respect, and appreciation for diversity.

In these early days, students are encouraged to think about and use positive verbs and adjectives as they talk about themselves, the people in their lives, and the things that they do (Interviews; The People I Care For Web; Caring Adjectives). With each activity, learners are encouraged to think about and analyze the language they use and begin to see the usefulness of language that communicates acceptance of feelings and that validates and affirms the "other".

After completing an activity called "Feelings A-Z" which builds students' "feelings" vocabulary, we do a wonderful activity that very clearly illustrates the link between kindness and language called "Margo's Bad Day" adapted from Lantieri & Patti (1996). You can create your own version of this story to fit your students' age and language ability. Lantieri & Patti suggest you make a heart with the words "I am lovable and capable" on it, and with each hurtful statement, tear off a piece and throw it on the floor. If students are from a culture that discourages expression of emotions and feelings, this gives them the opportunity to identify what others are feeling.

As they read about Margo's day and discuss how she feels, they naturally think about and analyze the language and the effect of the words upon her. When working together to "transform" her day into a good one, there is a natural sharing of all the kind and constructive things that could have been said as students brainstorm their ideas. Everyone is able to identify with young Margo and to instinctively think about times that they have experienced pain from someone's ill chosen words! This is a very powerful exercise in empathy but also works to validate the feelings that they may have experienced in the past.

I would love to share all my activities with you but space doesn't allow that. In closing, I must emphasize that it's not necessary to recreate your syllabus in order to teach for communicative peace. An activity here and there to raise awareness and to stimulate consideration of the language our students choose to use and the effect of those choices on others is a beginning. Our contributions may not be the total answer to eliminating communicative violence and other forms of violence in our societies, but our efforts can certainly make a difference in our students lives now and hopefully contribute to who they become in future.

Some Caring Communication Activities: A Sample Syllabus

  1. Getting to know one another and creating a caring classroom
    • Peaceable Classroom Guidelines (discussion and brainstorm/ We will + verb)
    • Find out about your classmates (Interview/Find Someone Who...)
    • The People I Care For Web
    • Caring, Positive, Peaceful Adjectives A-Z
    • Describe people you care for (using adjectives)
    • Who are you? Make a collage or drawing (include a photo of yourself in your creation)
  2. Caring for self and caring for others
    • "Dreams" poem by Langston Hughes (draw your image)
    • My dream for myself, my country, the world
    • Margo's Bad Day (Change the language used in the story to make Margo's bad day a good one)
    • Feelings A-Z
    • I-messages: "I feel ___ when ___ because ___" (Journal writing- ongoing)
    • Active Listening
    • Understanding others' point of view (POV)
    • Celebrating Difference (Skin color/body shapes)
    • My image of peace (how the world will be in __ years) (creative imagery/writing/)
    • Healthy and unhealthy ways that people relax
    • Food and Health
    • HIV/AIDS (see quiz
    • Hunger (There is enough!)
    • Human Rights (Universal Declaration, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women)
    • Child Labor (Internet Research: www2.
    • Human Rights and the United Nations video (available from Social Studies School Services with reproducible activities and readings)
    • Landmines (reading and research)
    • Jody Williams reading (Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1997)
    • Children in war (numbers and listening)
    • Area of Conflict (research)
  3. Caring for Nature and the Environment
    • Brainstorm problems in our environment
    • What you can do for the environment
    • Endangered species research project (See McInnis & Wells, 1994)
    • Choose an environmental issue, learn about it, teach your classmates
    • Problems in my neighborhood (Take a walk, talk to people, report to your classmates)
    • Nature walk (observe what you see, hear, smell, feel, taste!!! on tape or in your journal... share with your classmates)
  4. Caring for ideas
    • Music with a message (listening)
    • Peacemakers research (Miller-Lieber 1994)
    • Nobel Peace Prize Winners (Research)
    • Nobel Peace Prize Winners Matching Game
    • Readings (Alfred Nobel, other peace makers...)
    • What is PEACE? (Brainstorming activity)
    • Jimmy Carter Reading: The Carter Center
  5. Caring for human made things
    • My favorite invention
    • My favorite human made place
    • Something I use everyday and why it's important to me
    • Recycling
    • How does it work? Teach your classmates
    • Something I DIDN'T throw away this week and the reason why

Margot's Bad Day

13 and 1/2 year old Margo gets up in the morning a little late again and rushes to get ready for school. While she's in the shower, she hears her brother banging on the door. "Hey!" he says. "It's my turn in the bathroom. Hurry up! Don't you know how to tell time?" She finishes as quickly as she can and meets her brother standing outside the bathroom door, "You are such a slug!" he says. "You were supposed to be out of here 15 minutes ago!" After getting dressed, she heads out of her room and bangs into her brother. "Geez, Margo! What a clutz you are! Watch where you're going will you?" he says.

Further down the hall, she encounters her father on his way out of his bedroom. He looks her up and down and, before she can even say "Good morning, Dad!", he says "Those pants seem awfully tight, Margo. Are you gaining weight young lady?" She doesn't have time to change so runs downstairs to the kitchen. "Good morning Mom. What's for breakfast?" "Margo, do you realize what time it is? You have got to get yourself out of bed and down here earlier if you want me to cook you a hot breakfast. And that dog of yours got into the garbage again. Would you clean that up please?"

After cleaning up the mess, Margo grabs a banana and a yogurt, and runs out the door to catch the school bus. Just as she gets to the corner, the bus passes her by. Three girls call out the window, "Margo's a loser! Have a great walk to school!" When Margo gets to school, she runs to her classroom a few minutes late and the teacher says, "Margo... you're late again. That's the second time this week. What is WRONG with you? It better not happen again!!" A few of her classmates snicker as she goes to her seat.

Questions, Writing, and Discussion
  1. How do you think Margo is feeling today? Brainstorm as many feelings as you can!
  2. Have you ever been hurt by something that someone has said to you?
  3. Rewrite Margo's story. Think about ways that the negative statements can be put constructively. Change the negative statements to more kind, positive ones.
  4. Write about a bad day that you had recently.
This activity is adapted from Lantieri & Patti, (1996) p. 33 and Miller-Lieber (1998) pp. 38-41.


Web Sites for Teaching Kids Global Issues
Great Sources for Teaching Materials
  • Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR)
  • Social Studies School Services (SSSS)
References and Suggested Reading
  • Birch, B. (1994) Prosocial communicative competence in the ESOL classroom. TESOL Journal, Vol. 4, No.2.
  • Birch, B. (1995) Conflict Resolution course. TESOL Summer Institute on Peace Education at St. Michael's College, Colchester, Vermont.
  • Cecil, N.L. (1995) Raising peaceful children in a violent world. San Diego: Luramedia, Inc.
  • Cohen, R. (1995). Students Resolving Conflicts. Glenview, IL.: GoodYear Books.
  • Cates, K. (1993) "Teaching for a better world: Global education and foreign language teaching" (pp. 29-42). In Albert Raasch (ed.) Language teaching in a world without peace. Saarbrucken: Universitat des Saarlandes.
  • Drew, N. (1995) Learning the skills of peacemaking. Torrance, CA.: Jalmar Press.
  • Freudenstein, R. (1993) "Integrating peace into the foreign language curriculum" (pp. 75-81). In A. Raasch (ed) Language teaching in a world without peace. Saarbrucken:Universitat Saarland
  • Gibbs, J. (1994) Tribes: A new way of learning together. USA: Center Source Publications.
  • Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Gomes de Matos, F. (1991) "Using English for communicative peace: A pedagogical checklist" Braz-TESOL Journal (p. 4). September '91.
  • Gomes de Matos, F. (1992) "Peace through TESOL: A practical approach" TESOL Matters, Vol. 2, No. 2.
  • Gomes de Matos, F. (1992) "A pedagogy of positiveness: A new approach for the 21st century" FIPLV World News. No. 60- World News: No. 21. September 1992.
  • Gomes de Matos, F. (1998) Communicative peace. Presented at TESOL '98 convention, Seattle.
  • Harris, I. (1988) Peace education. US: McFarland.
  • Hicks, D. (1988) Educating for peace. London/ New York: Routledge.
  • Hutchinson, F. (1996) Educating Beyond Violent Futures. London/New York: Routledge.
  • Kreidler, W.J. (1984) Creative conflict resolution. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman & Co.
  • Kreidler, W.J. (1990) Elementary perspectives: Teaching concepts of peace and conflict. USA: Educators for Social Responsibility.
  • Kreidler, W.J. (1994) Teaching conflict resolution through children' literature. NY: Scholastic.
  • Kreidler, W.J. (1995) Adventures in peacemaking: A conflict resolution activity guide for school-age programs. Cambridge, MA.: Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR).
  • Kreidler, W.J. (1997a) Conflict resolution in the middle school. Cambridge, MA.: Educators for Social Responsibility.
  • Kreidler, W.J. (1997b) Early childhood adventures in peacemaking: A conflict resolution activity guide for early childhood providers. Cambridge, MA.: Educators for Social Responsibility.
  • Lantieri, L. & Patti, J. (1996) Waging peace in our schools. Boston, MA.: Beacon Press.
  • Levin, D. (1994) Teaching young children in violent times: Building a peaceable classroom. Cambridge, MA.: Educators for Social Responsibility.
  • Linguapax III. "Final Document" (1990) In Languages: ways towards peace. (pp. 147-159). Saarbrucken: Universitat des Saarlandes
  • McInnis, D. & Wells, B. (1995) "Peace education and its role in the EFL classroom" Soka University Peace Research Institute Journal. (pp. 57-76). Tokyo: Soka University.
  • McInnis, D. & Wells, B. (1994) "Global issues in the Japanese EFL classroom: A chronicle of an endangered species project" Soka University Jounal of Culture and Language. (pp. 108-150). Tokyo: Soka University.
  • McInnis, D. (1998) "Caring communication in the language class" Peace Review 10:4, 539-543.
  • Miles, L. (1995) In C. Schaffner and A. Wenden (Eds.) Language and peace. (pp. ix-x). Brookfield, VT: Dartmouth Publishing Co.
  • Miller-Lieber, C. (1994) Making choices about conflict, security, and peacemaking: Personal perspectives (Part I). Cambridge, MA.: Educators for Social Responsibility.
  • Miller-Lieber, C. (1998) Conflict resolution in the high school: 36 lessons. Cambridge, MA: Educators for Social Responsibility
  • Noddings, N. (1984) Caring: A feminine approach to ethics & moral education. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Noddings, N. (1992) The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Raasch, A. (1993) "Preliminary remarks" in Albert Raasch (ed.) Language teaching in a world without peace. (pp. 7). Saarbrucken: Universitat des Saarlandes.
  • Raasch, A. (1997a) "Preface" in Albert Raasch (ed.) Languages: ways towards peace. (pp. 12-13). Saarbrucken: Universitat des Saarlandes.
  • Raasch, A. (1997b) "The contribution of linguistics to a discourse of peace" In Albert Raasch (ed.) Languages: ways towards peace. (pp. 12-13). Saarbrucken: Universitat Saarland.
  • Reardon, B.A. (1988) Comprehensive peace education: Educating for global responsibility. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Reardon, B.A. (1988) Educating for global responsibility: Teacher designed curricula for peace education, K-12. N.Y.: Teachers College.
  • Reardon, B.A. & Nordland, E. (Eds.). (1994) Learning peace: The promise of ecological and cooperative education. Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Reardon, B.A. (1995) Educating for human dignity: Learning about rights and responsibilities. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Schmidt, F. (1999) Breaking the cycle: Teach peace education.
  • Taking part: An elementary curriculum in the Participation Series. (1991) Boston Area Chapter of ESR. Cambridge, MA: Educators for Social Responsibility.
  • Wenden, A. (1995) "Critical language education" In C. Schaffner and A. Wenden (Eds.) Language and peace. (pp. 211-227). Brookfield, VT: Dartmouth Publishing Co.

This article is reprinted from Volume 4 #2 (July 1999) of the Teachers Learning with Children newsletter of JALT's Teaching Children SIG. E-mail:
Donna McInnis: Soka University, 1-236 Tangi-cho, Hachioji-shi, Tokyo, JAPAN 192 -8577


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