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TEXT: ONTARIO BAR ASSOCIATION
Journey Into Peace: A Bullying Prevention Program Through Visual Arts
Carol Knowlton-Dority with Genevieve Chornenki

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Ontario's school system is a microcosm of our pluralistic society. Day after day, children work and play along side peers from distinct cultures and diverse family configurations. They are confronted with differences and persistent social challenges that most adults could not manage with grace.

As a teacher and a visual artist, I am interested in addressing this situation. I want to support children in learning the skills necessary to accept and integrate personal differences: skills which will serve them and society into the future. This prompted me to develop a junior/intermediate school program (Grade 5-8) that uses visual arts to foster personal development and to promote conflict resolution and bullying prevention.

In delivering the program, my role is essentially that of a facilitator in three main ways. First, I work to help to improve the way the group works together. By group I mean the classroom, the school and the community at large. Second, my goal is to promote collaboration, cooperation and productive problem solving. Third, I do not give children any answers. I create a space where their answers can emerge.

Since initiating this program in late 2005, I have worked with hundreds of school children and invited them on a journey into peace. The focus of my program is bullying but this is by no means limited to personal violence and physical harm. I expand the usual meaning of the word to include any situation that entails great harm and distress such as illness, poverty, isolation, depression or aspects of the media. And, because my program is not limited to conventional "pen on paper" activities, I am able engage a wide range of students.

Journey Into Peace utilizes visual art as a bridge to self reliance, tolerance and insight into the powerful emotions that connect us all. It integrates action and reflection, but I especially honour reflection which is not widely supported in contemporary Western culture.
I begin by giving students problem-solving exercises using paper sculpture such as cut a spiral, or find 3 different ways to make a "fringe". They soon see that there are many ways to do this - all legitimate, but each with strengths and weaknesses. They learn from their own activities and art as well as from their peers.

I also facilitate process awareness, I have the children work alone as well as in groups, Then I help them reflect on what each configuration involved. What was it like to work in a group, for instance? What are the pros? What are the cons? How did it feel compared to working alone?

Little by little, the curriculum builds. At one point I show the children a painting I made of a child. We identify the least prevalent colour used in the painting, which is red. It hardly seems significant, However, when we filter out the red and re-examine the painting, we see how the image is distorted and how the subject of the painting looks less like a child, less human. The children quickly grasp the implications of this exercise.

My program employs a range of visual art techniques. These are about expression and exploration, not about performance and evaluation. For example, the children do line drawings of their emotions and, typically, these depict the full range of human feelings. We study and discuss these and inevitably an important insight emerges. The children notice that they have all identified the same emotions and yet the expression of each is unique. They have ultimately hit upon what connects them to others, whether those others occupy the next row of desks or live half way around the globe.

Although this program does not have a pragmatic goal like career choice or university entrance, it is of great practical significance since it has to do with how people get along with each other. As an artist and an educator, I cannot think of any skill more important for children to acquire.

Carol Knowlton-Dority, Artist/Educator B.A., B.Ed.
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