This article was originally published by The Mennonite

A peace-seeking education

The third graders in Warden Neuenschwander’s homeroom class at Sarasota (Fla.) Christian School were having a little trouble getting along last September. They also happened to be studying Judges, learning how when the Israelites needed help getting along, God appointed judges from within their tribes.

Wanting to incorporate the Scripture as well as help them manage their own disagreements, Neuenschwander created a “judge” or mediator position in the classroom, adding it to other rotating classroom jobs, such as technology specialist, photographer or line leaders.

The first “judge,” chosen at random, set a high bar for how the classroom would mediate conflicts for the next few months.   If any students were upset, she prioritized calming them down. Then she ensured everyone involved had a chance to tell their side uninterrupted. She asked how they might solve the issue, helping them decide a way to work things out.

“She was so unbiased and so calm,” Neuenschwander said. “So many of the strategies she used hadn’t been covered in our curriculum at that time.”

The impact of this peer-to-peer problem solving has been tangible, he said.   “They’re going to this judge of the classroom a lot less now that they’re understanding how they can break conflict down themselves,” he said.

“It’s exciting to see how they are taking ownership. It changed from them wanting me to solve all their problems to finding someone at their level to help them work things out.”

He sees the result as a strong reflection of one of the six distinctives shared by Mennonite Schools Council member schools: to create students who are peace seekers. MSC is the early childhood through 12th grade network of schools within Mennonite Church USA’s Mennonite Education Agency.

These distinctives—which also include creating Christ followers, community builders, rigorous learners, service givers and difference embracers—are things MEA believes make its students separate or distinct from those at other schools, says senior director Elaine Moyer.

“The MEA identity markers seek to express the particularity of our Mennonite schools, early childhood through seminary,” she says. “As Anabaptist-Mennonite institutions, we desire to live fully into the reign of God—on earth as in heaven.”

She thinks it is fitting that “peace seekers” comes right after “Christ followers” in the list of distinctives.   “Because to follow Christ means to engage with how we treat others, how we see others through the lens of Christ, of Jesus’ life, of Jesus’ teachings,” she says. “That’s the real reason our schools are there.”

Efforts like Neuenschwander’s experiment, or the way Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Schools have used restorative discipline for 15 years in place of the punitive discipline widely used in U.S. schools, demonstrate this unique commitment to creating peace-seeking students that is an essential part of all MEA schools’ as they strive to offer an Anabaptist education.

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Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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