Teaching Dignity

Our ultimate goal is to help ring in a new era of dignity by empowering students with a vocabulary and set of skills to analyze and defuse conflict. We hope to foster student activism and to create pockets of dignity within our schools that will grow into meaningful social change.

This website is a partnership of teachers and educators working to develop the burgeoning dignity movement by offering pro-social lessons and interventions that have worked in our classrooms and schools.

The dignity curriculum outlined in detail on this site has been implemented in the middle school at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, New York by Mike Wilper and Megan Saxelby.

What is Dignity?

Our working definition: Dignity refers to a person’s fundamental right to have rights.Dignity recognizes the innate value of every human; recognizing that each individual embodies profound potential and experiences the full range of human emotions and needs. 

We are greatly indebted to the work of Donna Hicks and Robert Fuller, both of whom have provided crucial ideas, vocabulary, and insights that operate at the heart of our program.

Dr. Hicks kindly offered her blog as a vehicle to discuss our program. We posted three perspectives on the impact of dignity in the classroom: 1. From the teacher, 2. From the students, 3. From a parent.

 Why Dignity Works

1.The program addresses the hidden forces at work in the classroom, including status, fear of humiliation, and the components of conflict. Students spend a lot of time thinking about these things anyway, and a working vocabulary helps them analyze and resolve issues that can otherwise distract or derail student achievement.

2. A working vocabulary for conflict management helps keep small conflicts and arguments from escalating.

3. The vocabulary helps students understand the psychological forces behind the frustratingly ubiquitous divisions and conflicts in our societies. Conversations around bullying, race, gender, sexuality, and other charged topics become far more comprehensible and, ultimately, solvable.

4. The program prioritizes student safety, autonomy, purpose, and the creation of meaningful connections amongst peers. A healthy emotional environment frees up huge tracts of mental real estate to devote to the development of other academic skills.

5. The program is inclusive. Every voice is equal and every individual matters. There are no back seats at the table.

6. The program emphasizes a concept of each person as a complex individual. Students understand this intuitively given that we all experience life as complex individuals, and seeing every individual as complex is a more resilient concept than the shallow labels that we regularly use to categorize and label others. The dignity model asks students to use the same set of lenses to understand as others as they use to understand themselves.

7. The program acknowledges the complexity of conflict. It asks students to look beyond their first intuitive judgment and avoid the “fast thinking” that inevitably leads to shallow conclusions.

8. The willingness to confront complexity, especially the complexity of seemingly minor conflicts and tensions in our community, often feels intellectually and emotionally thrilling. Students tend to find the material engaging and meaningful.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to reach out:

Mike Wilper: mwilper@berkeleycarroll.org

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.