Teaching teens to forgive Print
Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Edgewood High School freshmen in the school's Forgiveness program acted out a New Testament passage on the lost son and how each of the three characters might feel about forgiving, being forgiven, or having their forgiveness of another questioned by a third party. (Photo by Kate Ripple)MADISON -- Corrie Ten Boom, a woman survivor of a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust, once said, "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you."

What is the right time to teach children to forgive? How does one go about teaching and learning this skill?

What should we forgive, or not forgive? Why is forgiveness important, and to whom? Does one forgive the person, or the wrong done?

Teen students now have the opportunity to talk about these and many other questions through a new Forgiveness pilot program at Edgewood High School (EHS).

Teaching forgiveness

Edgewood freshmen FIT (freshman interdisciplinary team) teachers recently took on the challenge of being the first high school to teach the Forgiveness curriculum of the International Forgiveness Institute.

Forming teams of two, they meet about twice a month with groups of 20 students. All freshmen participate, covering such thorny issues as uncovering wounds that may be healed, one's own human value and the human value of the offender, how to know when you have succeeded in forgiving, and the triumph that personal healing allows. The program was tested during the third quarter of last school year and began in earnest this year.

"A lot has happened to me in the past three years," one student expressed in an evaluation. "I was always living in the past. The most meaningful part of the forgiveness unit was learning to let go."

"It really opened my eyes to how forgiveness relates to my life," said another. "I [now] understand more fully the after-effects of forgiveness. It helped me move on."

Founder expands program

Robert Enright, Ph.D., a University of Wisconsin-Madison social science researcher who began the International Forgiveness Institute (EFI) in 1994 and the IFI's education program in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2002, has since seen the curriculum taught in over 60 elementary and middle schools.

When Enright wanted to expand his program to high schools, he approached Edgewood's principal, Bob Growney. Growney saw it as a natural for ninth-graders through the freshman core class block, which allows for flexible enrichment time.

Through a grant from the William R. Walker family and the Mid-West Family Charitable Trust, the Forgiveness Program at EHS was born in 2011.

"The program began as an outgrowth of research my colleagues and I have done since 1985. We hope that an intensive exposure to forgiveness will help these youth -- both now and once they become adults -- handle their conflicts with greater peace, based on the principles of forgiveness," said Enright.

Edgewood plans to expand the program to the sophomore level next year.

More information on the IFI's education programs is available at www.forgiveness–institute.org/html/education.htm

Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart is a Catholic school in its 131st year providing a Dominican education in a caring Catholic community. Edgewood's rigorous curriculum emphasizes truth, compassion, justice, partnership, and community, five core values embraced by its sponsors, the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. More information on EHS can be found at www.edgewoodhs.org


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