The Impact of Using Children’s Literature to Teach 5th Graders about Forgiveness

Dr. Suzanne Freedman

A Guest Blog by
Suzanne Freedman
, Ph.D.

University of Northern Iowa

“How children navigate their emotional world is critical to their life long success
.”
      Susan David, Emotional Agility

Recent statistics illustrate an increase in elementary school children dying by suicide (Dillard, 2018). Three nine-year old children took their own lives this past year and bullying was related to all three deaths. Hate incidents at school are increasing at alarming rates although most incidents of hate are not reported. Along with increases in suicide and suicide ideation, anxiety and depression in youth are on the rise (Dillard, 2018).

Click the graphic to find out if your state has established SEL goals.

Helping students develop empathy toward others is a key strategy in bullying prevention and intervention and according to a recent NY Times article (Brody, 2018), it is critical that we help kids develop empathy early in their lives. Social emotional learning (SEL) programs that include a focus on empathy and regulation of emotions are being recognized as an important part of the school curriculum for all students (Zakrzeski, 2014) and based on recent statistics, there is a need for more SEL programs in schools today. 

According to Cook-Deegan (2018), social-emotional learning teaches the key attitudes and skills necessary for understanding and managing emotions, listening, feeling and showing empathy for others, and making thoughtful, responsible decisions. Research illustrates that including social-emotional learning (SEL) in the curriculum is good for both students and their teachers (Zakrzeski, 2014).

Forgiveness education, with its focus on recognizing and validating students’ anger as well as teaching students to express emotions in a healthy way, understand the perspective of others, recognize the humanity in all, and increase empathy and compassion, is one form of social-emotional learning that is currently being investigated by researchers (Enright., Knutson, Holter., Baskin, & Knutson, 2007; Freedman, 2018).

The forgiveness education research project described here was based on a quasi-experimental pre-test post-test design with two classes of 5th grade elementary school students attending a low-income school in a Midwestern community. There were approximately 25 ten and eleven-year old students in each class representing a diverse group of races and ethnicities.

The forgiveness education curriculum consisted of 10 weekly lessons of 30 minutes in duration with two days of pre-testing and two days of post-testing. Although all students received the forgiveness education, only the students who returned signed consent forms from their parents completed pre and post-tests (30 out of 50 students total – 16 students in one class and 14 students in another class).

The forgiveness education was taught by the researcher (and author of this blog) and occurred in each classroom on different days of the week. The same weekly lesson was taught in each classroom and the forgiveness education curriculum was based on Enright’s four-phase, 20-unit process model.  Selected children’s literature was used to teach and illustrate forgiveness and related concepts to the students.

Certain principles from the chapter, “Helping Children and Adolescents Forgive”, in Enright’s (2001) book, Forgiveness is a Choice, guided the education. First, the idea that it is always the child’s choice to forgive was highlighted. Second, the curriculum was developed with the understanding that children may not understand forgiveness in the same was as adults. Third, the point that forgiving and reconciling are not the same thing was emphasized. Fourth, the rationale for this education and research project was based on the realization that if children are going to learn about forgiveness they need to be educated about it and know that it exists as an option as well as the knowledge that children learn more deeply when challenged and encouraged.

After the project, quantitative results illustrated that students increased significantly in their forgiveness toward a specific offender from pre-test to post-test. Students reported being hurt by friends, siblings, mothers and other students. Students also showed significant increases in their knowledge of forgiveness from pre-test to post-test.

Qualitative results illustrated that students both enjoyed and benefited from the forgiveness education curriculum. Specifically, when asked about what they learned and enjoyed about the forgiveness education, 14 students reported that the forgiveness education “helped them learn to forgive someone”.

Specific statements included, “I like forgiveness because in the future we will meet other people that we do not like but we still need to forgive them”; “Forgiveness has helped me forgive people I couldn’t forgive in a long time”, “It helps me forgive people when they make bad choices”; and “I liked learning because I have learned how to forgive someone like I am trying to forgive someone right now”.

Ten students reported that learning about forgiveness helped them know more about “being nice and showing kindness to others”. Specific comments included, “Even if people you know are mean to you, you can still be nice to them. Don’t be mean to others”; “It helped me be nicer to my brother and friends”; and “You could always give a person that is mean to you a second chance because maybe the person that is being mean is having a bad day or got in an argument with their best friend”.

Nine students also reported that they “learned more about bullying” from the forgiveness education. Specific comments included, “Some bullies get bullied so they are letting their anger out on somebody else”; “People are just hurt inside when they bully”; Even though somebody is being mean to you, you could still forgive them”; and “When you have empathy you want to know how they feel and then you can put your feet in their shoes, and if you are getting bullied you can turn them into a friend by knowing how they feel”.

Seven students reported that they “learned ways to calm down and let go of anger as a result of the forgiveness education. Six students stated that the forgiveness education taught them that “we are all the same underneath”. Another six students reported that they “learned about empathy”. Additional responses by more than one student included, “Forgiving is hard”; “Forgiveness is a choice”; “You don’t need an apology”; Forgiving takes time”; “Forgive but not forget”; and “Revenge is not part of forgiveness”.

This study illustrates the potential of forgiveness education to improve elementary school students’ psychological well-being and interpersonal relations as well as the importance of including forgiveness education in the school curriculum. Students who learn how to forgive and decrease their anger in healthy ways will be less likely to be involved in bullying and other violent acts (Freedman, 2018). This research is encouraging and needs to be replicated with additional populations of children and adolescents.


You are Invited to a Live Benefit Concert on Nov. 11

The Arts @ First United Methodist Church, Madison presents…

    Live on Stage from Around the World:
 90 Minutes of World Class Performances

2:00 pm
Sunday, November 11, 2018
First United Methodist Church
203 Wisconsin Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin
.
Join us for a live concert featuring these internationally-respected performers:
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The Kat Trio

The Kat Trio, formally known as The Ekaterinburg (Russia) Classical Trio, is composed of Victoria Gorbich (violin), Vladislav Gorbich (Clarinet), and Joseph Ross (pianist). The trio’s unique Russian arrangements and seamless transcriptions of timeless melodies feature classical works, well-known inspirational songs, and even American pop standards, including Scott Joplin’s rags.

Click this link to hear The Kat Trio perform Joplin’s hit tune “The Easy Winners.”

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The Varshavski-Shapiro
Piano Duo

The Varshavski-Shapiro Piano Duo is comprised of pianists  Stanislava Varshavski (born in Kharkov, Ukraine) and Diana Shapiro (born in Moscow, Russia), who began playing together in 1998 after meeting at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy in Israel. After studying in Israel and the US, both pianists completed Doctoral degree studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011.
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Click here to listen to The Varshavski-Shapiro Piano Duo perform three of their piano classics.

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Miles McConnell 

Miles McConnell is a classical guitarist from central Florida who has studied and performed around the world and who is now based in Madison, WI, where he earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Classical Guitar Performance in 2010. Miles has just returned from his performance at the Classical Guitar Retreat at the Cathedral of the Isles, on the isle of Cumbrae, in Scotland. Click here to see and hear Miles play six of his classical arrangements.
..

Norman Gilliland
Concert Master of Ceremonies will be Norman Gilliland who began hosting classical music broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio in the mid-1970s. Gilliland has also been the narrator for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s popular summer series “Concerts on the Square” for the past 28 years.
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Meet the artists at a hospitality reception following the concert.
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…..Proceeds from this concert will support:
The First United Methodist Food Pantry
and
The International Forgiveness Institute
$10 donation suggested.


For more information contact:
Jonathan Little Management / JL Presents
Mobile: 608-219-1077

A New Film About Archbishop Desmond Tutu –THE FORGIVEN

ScreenAfrica, Johannesburg, South Africa – Two decades after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission addressed South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, a new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.

The Forgiven, a film by award-winning director Roland Joffé, is a fictionalised account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to confront the atrocities of apartheid in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa.

“This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with,” Joffe says of the film. “We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”

The drama follows Archbishop Tutu and his struggle – morally and intellectually – with a brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad over redemption and forgiveness.

According to the producers, the story is poignant and timely. “It reminds us of Archbishop Tutu’s gift of forgiveness and the healing it brings, and we are honoured to tell this story.”


“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu


Archbishop Tutu was honored with the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime. His willingness to forgive those who tortured him, his nonviolent path to liberation, and his ability to articulate the suffering and expectations of South Africa’s oppressed masses made him a living symbol in the struggle for liberation.

The film will be released worldwide on Oct. 5, 2018. You can watch the film trailer at The Forgiven.

Archbishop Tutu, an Honorary Member of the International Forgiveness Institute Board of Directors, is the author of several books including:


 

Dr. Robert Enright Named “Pioneer and Founder of Forgiveness Science”

Editor’s Note: That designation was issued by CRUX Media last week as part of an intense and revealing interview with Dr. Enright that was conducted while he was in Rome for the Rome Forgiveness Conference at the University of Santa Croce. 

Among the interview questions addressed by Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, were these: What does the science of forgiveness tell us? What are the consequences of forgiving?  In such battle-scarred parts of the world as Northern Ireland, does your science work? Do you find religious people are more inclined to forgive?


ROME – Scientific study of the world has been around for a while now, so it’s rare these days to meet the founder of an entirely new branch of science. That, however, is what you’ve got in full living color in the person of Robert Enright, a Catholic who teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and who pioneered what’s today known as “forgiveness science.”

Enright has spent the last thirty-plus years developing hard, empirical answers, including a four-phase, twenty-step process to lead patients to forgive. He insists data prove it has positive effects, including tangible reductions in anxiety, anger and psychological depression, and gains in self-esteem and optimism about the future.

Enright is in Rome this week, to speak at a Jan. 18 conference on forgiveness at the University of the Holy Cross, the Opus Dei-sponsored university here. He’s applied his tools in some of the world’s least forgiving places, including Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, and Liberia.  .  .  .

Read the rest of Dr. Enright’s interview with John L. Allen Jr., Editor of CRUX Media, an international, independent Catholic media outlet operated in partnership with the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.

John L. Allen Jr. has written nine books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs and is a renowned columnist and speaker in both the US and internationally. His articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, The Tablet, Jesus, Second Opinion, The Nation, the Miami Herald, Die Furche, the Irish Examiner, and many other publications.

He has received honorary doctorates from four universities in the US and Canada, is a senior Vatican analyst for CNN, and was a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter for 16 years. Allen is a native of Kansas, a state in the exact geographic center of the US.

Do I Really Want to Forgive When Traumatized?

Why would anyone want to forgive when another has traumatized you?

I would like to suggest a different perspective on trauma and forgiveness. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating the sense of fear or disgust or danger or moral evil. Instead, it is the grave emotional wounds which are leading to these thoughts and feelings about forgiveness. When people are wounded they naturally tend to duck for cover. When someone comes along with an outstretched hand and says, “Please come out, into the sunshine, and experience the warmth of healing,” it can be too much. We then blame the one with the outstretched hand or the warmth of the sun or anything else “out there” for our discomfort when all the while the discomfort is what is residing inside the person, not “out there.” And this reaction is all perfectly understandable, given the trauma.

If you experience a blown out knee while working out, and it is gravely painful, is it not difficult to go to the physician? There you face all the sharp white-lights of the examining room, and the nurses scurrying about, and the statements about surgery and recovery and rehabilitation. It all seems to be too much. Yet, it is not the physician or the nurses or the thought of the scalpel or the rehab that is the ultimate cause of all the discomfort. That ultimate cause is the blown-out knee. Isn’t it the same with forgiveness? You have within you a deep wound, caused by others’ injustice, and now the challenge is to heal.

Forgiveness is one way to heal from the trauma which you did not deserve. Like the blown-out  knee, the trauma needs healing. So, I urge you to separate in your mind the wound from forgiveness itself. My first challenge to you, then, is this: Is it forgiveness itself that is the basic problem or is it the wound and then all the thoughts of what you will have to do to participate in the healing of that wound?

Forgiveness heals. Forgiveness does not further traumatize. To forgive is to know that you have been treated unjustly and despite the injustice, you make the decision to reduce your resentment toward the offending person and eventually work toward mercy for him or her. That mercy can take the form of kindness, respect, generosity, and even love. Do you want that in you life—kindness, respect, generosity, and love? Forgiveness can help strengthen these in your heart or even begin to have them grow all over again for you.

– Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 2.

Robert

 

 

Children Forgive Man Who Killed Their Father on Easter Sunday

CNA/EWTN News, Cleveland, Ohio, USA- They had to endure it all on Easter Sunday–grief over their father’s brutal killing, anguish because of a video of the actual killing posted on Facebook by the killer himself, and the agony of an ongoing nation-wide search to find that killer.

But through it all, the children of Robert Godwin Sr. still say they forgive the man who murdered their father.

“Each one of us forgives the killer. The murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him,” said Tonya Godwin Baines, one of Godwin Sr.’s 10 children. She said that it was her slain father who taught her, through the example of his life, how to forgive. “The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God. How to fear God. How to love God. And how to forgive.”

On Sunday afternoon, 74-year-old Godwin Sr. was shot and killed in Cleveland while walking home from an Easter dinner with his family. Police said that the suspect, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, apparently chose his victim at random, and then uploaded a video of the murder to Facebook. The social media network removed the video three hours later.

Following a nationwide manhunt, authorities were notified by an alert McDonald’s employee on Tuesday morning that Stephens’ car was in the restaurant’s parking lot near Erie, Pa. After a brief pursuit by police, Stephens shot and killed himself while still in the driver’s seat.

Godwin Sr.’s children agreed to a live interview on CNN Monday night while Stephens was still on the run. Though shocked and deeply pained by their father’s brutal murder, the children said they felt sorry for his killer.

“I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man. Because I know that he’s a sick individual,” Debbie Godwin said  about Stephens. “We want him to know that, first of all, we forgive him. We forgive him because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what daddy taught us. It’s the way we was raised…”

“You know what, I believe that God would give me the grace to even embrace this man. And hug him,” Debbie Godwin added. “It’s just the way my heart is, it’s the right thing to do. And so, I just would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved and there’s worth in him.”

Read more:
“Cleveland victim’s family: We forgive killer” – CNN news online.
“Easter in Cleveland” – KTSA Radio, San Antonio, TX.
“Family of Facebook murder victim: We forgive the killer” –   CNA/EWTN News.
How to Forgive – International Forgiveness Institute website.
Forgiveness Is a Choice
 by Robert D. Enright, PhD.

Forgiveness: why it’s important

Editor’s Note: Forgiveness has matured into a world-wide movement, including in India. This article is excerpted from a more lengthy news story in one of India’s largest business publications.

LiveMint.com, New Delhi, India – In his 2015 book, 8 Keys To Forgiveness, psychologist Robert Enright cites research to demonstrate the power of forgiveness. In a study conducted with fellow psychologist Suzanne Freedman, he found that incest survivors who underwent a 14-month programme to forgive their perpetrators were free of depression one year after the programme ended. The study was published in the Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology in 1996.

In another study, published in the Psychology & Health journal in 2009, Enright and his colleagues worked with men who were admitted to the hospital with cardiac problems. After undergoing forgiveness therapy, which involved 10 weekly sessions of identifying and forgiving those who had wronged them, the men not only exhibited reduced levels of anger but also had healthier hearts.

Students in Phaltan, India, work together on a Microsoft Work Wonders Project.
Students in Phaltan, India, work together on Microsoft’s Work Wonders Project.

Intriguingly, Enright has even found that students who were unable to concentrate in school owing to anger issues benefited from forgiveness counselling, so much so that they actually raised their grades from D to C, were able to focus better and had more amiable relationships with others. This study was published in the Journal Of Research In Education in 2008. Thus, forgiveness can have a positive ripple effect, wherein mercy extended to one person radiates to others.

If forgiveness, then, can have such a positive impact, how can we practise it more often? As Enright says, forgiveness goes beyond saying “I throbbing-heartforgive you”. In fact, the words do not even have to be uttered; rather, they have to be felt. In its essence, forgiveness entails “extending goodness towards those who have hurt you”. It involves acknowledging the inherent worth of every human being. And, as we all know, this can be hard even at the best of times, and can become a Herculean task when we have been wronged grievously.

Enright, however, says that we can become “forgivingly-fit” with practice. By first forgiving people whom we love for minor misdemeanours, we can gradually graduate to forgiving those who have injured us in more heinous ways.

Finally, forgiveness should not be mistaken for weakness. As Mahatma Gandhi aptly put it, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”


Aruna Sankaranarayanan, the author of this article, is the founder and director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties in Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, India. She completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College and acquired her doctorate in developmental psychology at Harvard University. Both schools are in Massachusetts, USA.

Mint is one of India’s premium business news publications and the clear No.2 among business papers in terms of readership. LiveMint.com is Mint’s online portal and is among the fastest growing news websites in India.

To explore more of Dr. Enright’s compendium of peer-reviewed forgiveness research from the past 30+ years, visit the Research Section of this website.