Why the school deserves monthly promotion in Rhode Island’s only statewide daily newspaper isn’t clear, but this month’s Providence Journal profile of Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown only makes its transformation into a “nonviolence” school more troubling. Last month, for example, I suggested that “the cult doesn’t go so far as to claim any real existential foundation for preferring its teachings over any other,” but that may not be the case. This is from today’s article:
[Fifth grade teacher Robin] Wildman is leading a movement at Broad Rock Middle School, based on the principles of “Kingian Nonviolence,” a philosophy outlined in Martin Luther King Jr.’s book, “Stride Toward Freedom.” After four training sessions, most of the employees at the school are trained in the concept, which was put in full effect in the school in October.
King’s book focuses on six principles, which Wildman broke down in a more digestible way for her audience. In her curriculum, which is used schoolwide, they are: Nonviolence is a way of life for brave people; The Peaceful Community is a goal for the future; attack problems not people; know and do what is right even if it is difficult; avoid hurting the spirit and body of yourself and others; and the universe is on the side of justice.
What — pray tell — does it mean for “the universe” to be “on the side of justice,” and who deciphers the Will of The Universe? An obvious answer is that Ms. Wildman is one vessel for interpretation of this divine will. As she says, “I think the universe put this in my lap for a reason.”
The agency and intention of The Universe is a critical point, because the new information in this article, versus last month’s, is that the program isn’t just a practical guide for managing stress and interactions that students and families can follow to the extent that they work for them, individually. Wildman notes that her school goes farther than other “nonviolence” curricula in teaching students “why they should follow this code of conduct.” The goal is to become a “peaceful community,” which journalist Jacqueline Tempera describes as a “nirvana” or an “idyllic state” of “harmony.”
What about those who might not fit in with that “idyllic state”? According to Wildman, nobody is ever “shunned,” but “we might need to re-teach someone a new behavior.” How that might be applied in a given class, we can only imagine (until somebody goes public with a complaint).
What happens, for example, if somebody in the inclusive classroom circle expresses the belief that that somebody else is wrong to say that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God? One suspects that the teacher would chastise the Christian for being exclusive and either assert or insinuate that there is no right answer on God, which is to say that the right answer on God is whatever the classroom authority has interpreted from The Universe. Or what if — during open discussion — a student describes his affection for hunting with his father? Or any other activity that the teacher, as the local interpreter of the Will of the Universe, finds aesthetically displeasing or politically uncomfortable?
If the people of South Kingstown don’t mind their middle school’s being run under the guidelines of a cult, I, as a resident of a different town, would be disinclined to criticize except for the fact that activists have ensured that my neighbors and I — or any other communities across the entire country — don’t have the right to insist that our local public schools conduct themselves under the assumption that Christianity may very well be correct, or any other answer to the question “why” that attempts to give people some broader explanation than just that the government tells us so.
If that’s not the establishment of a state religion, what is?