In brief

10th October 2003 at 01:00
LIFE-ENRICHING EDUCATION. By Marshall B Rosenberg. PuddleDancer Press pound;11.50. Mail order from Life Resources, 5 Water Eaton Road, Oxford OX2 7QQ. Tel: 0845 458 0996.

This book comes from the Centre for Nonviolent Communication, "a global organisation helping people compassionately connect with themselves and one another through nonviolent communication". The process was created by clinical psychologist Marshall B Rosenberg, and promotes a language of empathy and honesty. The technique is relevant to schools, where a culture of authority and control can create a language of sarcasm and put-downs.

Part of Rosenberg's rationale is that we should separate observation from evaluation. So instead of shouting: "Sharon! That was a mean thing to do, to hit Lionel with a building block," we should say: "I get scared when I see you hitting Lionel with a block, Sharon, because I want everyone to be safe in this classroom." The idea is to say how you feel without mixing in any evaluation that may sound like criticism.

Rosenberg shows how the approach might work, as follows:

"Student (angrily): Math is stupid.

Teacher: Sounds like you really hate math and want to do something that is more helpful to you.

Student: Yeah!

Teacher: I'm disappointed in myself. I wanted to make math appealing, but I can see I didn't make it appealing to you."

This kind of script opens itself to easy ridicule, but the principles are sound. Many schools are exploring ways of developing the emotional intelligence of students and acknowledging that social interaction and the language of problem resolution need to be actively taught.

This is an interesting book that aims to make school communities more civilised and life-enriching. But it speaks in a voice that doesn't easily translate to a UK context.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds

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