Raising Peacemakers: Peacemaking as a Tool for Change

(eBook on Sale $4.95 in the month of February)

At Garn Press we consider Esther Sokolov Fine’s book Raising Peacemakers an antidote to the Common Core and high stakes tests. It is a book for every teacher who is struggling to ensure that their students’ have the opportunity to learn the skills they will need to live in an increasingly turbulent and uncertain world.

Garn Press appreciates this opportunity to shine the spotlight on Esther’s many years of research on children and peacemaking. In addition to being one of Garn’s courageous writers of conscience, Esther Sokolov Fine is also Professor Emerita, York University, Toronto, Canada.

This post features an excerpt adapted from PRIMARY VOICES K-6, Volume 2, Number 4, November 1994. Esther Sokolov Fine was a guest editor with Naomi Norquay of this issue of the NCTE journal.  This issue was later included in a book published by NCTE – a collection of the second year issues of PRIMARY VOICES.


Peacemaking as a Tool for Change

Downtown Alternative School (DAS), a small public elementary school located in inner-city Toronto, draws students from across the city.  At DAS, beginning in junior kindergarten, children are involved in a Peacemaking program.  They learn to speak, listen, and engage in discussions as they become aware of the differing points of view involved in conflict situations.  As they learn to use language to negotiate, they gradually become able to make choices about how they talk and behave.  Children who might otherwise become frozen into patterns of aggression or silence learn, through experience, that hitting back or hiding are not their only defenses against systemic and personal sexism, racism, or other forms of aggression.

The children are taught to mediate and to seek solutions; they are helped by peers who, when they “feel ready,” declare themselves to be Peacemakers.  Their role is to intervene in conflict situations.  A “Peacemaking” begins with a restatement of rules in the form of questions.  The rules have been adapted by the children from questions used in the “Conflict Managers” program, developed by the Community Board of San Francisco (Sadalla et al, 1990)  The rules go approximately like this, though they tend to vary according to the situation:

Do you want to try to solve this problem?

Do you want to solve it with us or with a teacher?

Do you agree to listen?

No interruptions?

No running away?

No name-calling?

Tell the truth?

No stepping on toes?

No plugging your ears?

No denying?

Once the children in conflict have agreed to solve their problem and follow the rules, two Peacemakers engage them in a formal Peacemaking, following the San Francisco model designed for older children.  During the Peacemaking, each participant has a chance to put his or her viewpoint into words and be listened to.  Following this, suggestions for solutions are solicited until one is found that all can accept.  Everyone shakes hands, and the Peacemakers ask if everyone is “okay.”  This process requires clear articulation, careful listening, and a willingness to entertain more than one point of view.

Conflicts are often improvised as dramas, with rehearsals held in hallways and classrooms.  They are performed in front of classmates, who then offer suggestions or adapt the drama to different situations.  This involves language of revision, analysis, problem-solving, and negotiation as the children reflect on their own behaviours and experiences.  The children talk about how to teach others what they are learning.  They puzzle over what an audience might want to see and hear and how to sequence events so that their messages are clear.  Struggling through this process allows the children to refine and extend their own understandings and language.

These children tend to become clear thinkers, careful listeners, and effective language users.  As the children develop the language and social skills needed to solve problems, they become increasingly able to work and learn in groups.  They also become more caring and aware of the needs of other people.  Knowing that they will be heard and acknowledged makes the children feel safe and confident, with a sense of pride and ownership in the school.  The children write about Peacemaking; two of the stories they wrote, “The Peaceosaurus” and “The Food Fight, Ta Daa” were illustrated as books and are being distributed by the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO).

As teachers, we are discovering how important it is to use the language of negotiation with each other as well as with the children.  Collaboration and negotiation among adults is often complex and difficult, but when it occurs, it provides a supportive context for the learning of teachers and students.  DAS teachers and parents also write and talk about Peacemaking.  The program has received attention from many parts of the world and has won awards and received grants.  We have come to understand that when teachers negotiate social and curricular issues with each other and with students, new visions and new opportunities for meaningful language use become possible.  Language begins to connect with the histories, experiences, and struggles of all participants as part of the daily business of living and learning in school.

The traditional silencing of students from particular parts of society has been a damaging part of our schooling history.  When students begin to speak openly and critically about their lives, traditional forms of marginalization have a chance to shift.  Peacemaking, like other focused attempts to develop avenues for open discussion among elementary children (Derman-Sparks et al., 1989), provides opportunities for students to connect content with critical inquiry, negotiation, and issues of social equity.  It offers hope for less violence in our schools and in our communities.  It offers the possibility of safer classrooms that dignify children as they collaborate with teachers and each other to tell their stories, produce new and meaningful knowledge about the world, and assume authority over their own language.  As we work through the operations and language for negotiation and Peacemaking with elementary students, we challenge the power relations and assumptions of traditional schooling.  We are struggling to open silences that stifle pedagogical discussion and interfere with learning.  As a community, we can risk engaging in difficult discussions because we can use Peacemaking strategies to get us through the trouble spots.  Most important, we are helping children become less willing to participate in violence.


Derman-Sparks, L., & the A.B.C. Task Force, (1989.  Anti-bias curriculum:  tools for empowering young children.  Washington, DC:  National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Sadalla, G., Holmberg, M., & Halligan, J. (1990).  Conflict resolution: An elementary school curriculum.  San Francisco, CA:  The Community Board Program, Inc.


esther-fine-2Raising Peacemakers – eBook on Sale $4.95 in the month of February

Esther Sokolov Fine
Available for purchase: AmazonBarnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Kobo eBooks
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-942146-19-3
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-942146-12-4
eBook ISBN: 978-1-942146-13-1
Hardcover: $24.95 USD
Paperback: $17.95 USD
eBook: $4.95 USD





Raising Peacemakers shows that an authentic approach to managing child-to-child conflicts, learned in kindergarten, stayed with young children as they grew into adolescence and adulthood. It demonstrates by contrary example the profound error of standardized programs-in-a-box for “conflict resolution” and, by implication, much else in education.” – Carole Edelsky

“Esther Fine’s stories let readers learn how “doing peace” made and sustained lasting, positive changes in students’ lives.” – Patrick Willard Shannon

“Raising Peacemakers” is so much more than a well-designed blueprint for creating an alternative dispute resolution system in public schools. It is a deeply felt, albeit subtle, argument for the need throughout society for similar methods to resolve the disputes that separate and divide. Entertainingly written, “Raising Peacemakers” should be read by anyone who deals with disagreements, whether between children, between adults or between entire nations. There is much to be learned from the directness and simplicity of children.” – Amazon

“Raising Peacemakers” is an inspiring look at the effects an innovative elementary school program had on the lives of the parents, teachers, and students involved. But even more than that, it shows what children are capable of when they’re empowered to solve their own conflicts and take control over their lives.” – Amazon

A stellar book for parents, teachers and all who care about the next generation. Clearly, we’d be living in a different kind of world if those holding the reins of power had been nurtured by the likes of Esther Sokolov Fine.” – Amazon


Featured In Store: Raising Peacemakers T-Shirts, Poster, and Tote.

We’re excited to announce the Garn Press store is open! We have a great initial line-up of T-shirts, Tank Tops, Tote Bags and Posters from our upcoming release Raising Peacemakers by Esther Sokolov Fine. Stayed tuned for more store announcements!










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