Nonviolence Work in Education: The Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies Interview with Kay Bueno de Mesquita

by Paul J. Plumitallo

Dust wrapper art courtesy

Paul J. Plumitallo: I was wondering what violence means to you? Can violence be more than physical? Is language ever violent? There have been some disagreements about what violence actually means in my class.

Kay Bueno de Mesquita: I believe that violence is more than physical. It can be internal as well as external: violence of the spirit, a range from psychological to emotional from mild to severe. The damaging words that someone can say can have a longer lasting harmful effect than physical violence.

Plumitallo: Do you consider yourself to be nonviolent? How does one apply nonviolent principles to their daily life? We often discuss how difficult nonviolence is in our society because we are so exposed to violence.

Bueno de Mesquita: It’s true that being nonviolent in all aspects of life can be difficult. In his first principle of nonviolence Martin Luther King Jr. states that,  “Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.” [Please see the text of all Six Principles at the end of the interview.] Dr. King also said, “I’m not nonviolent some of the time, I’m nonviolent all of the time.” I strive to be nonviolent in every aspect of my life including thinking kind thoughts about myself, and others; being compassionate and empathetic to all people. I’m not always successful. But I try. I try to be mindful each day and “wake up each morning with a prayer and a smile.”

Plumitallo: I saw on the University of Rhode Island website [] that you incorporate Kingian nonviolence principles in your elementary education classes. How do students like this? Do students ever disagree with you? What do you consider a bad way to discipline a child or teach them a lesson in a classroom setting?

Bueno de Mesquita: Dr. King also states in number two of the Six Principles, “Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.” This supportive and positive climate is what I attempt to create in my college classroom of future teachers, modeling what I hope they will develop in their own elementary classrooms. College students also respond well to this philosophy.

I teach all six nonviolence principles and we also try to examine examples and evidence of the Kingian principles in children’s literature, engaging in deep discussions about these themes that they can apply to their teaching.

For example, I use How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich (New York: Scribner, 2012), which focuses on positive and instructional language to engage cooperation with young children. I believe that children are learning how to behave and respond and it is our job to help them, not punish them. When we teach better children learn better.

Plumitallo: You attend the violence prevention program in Central Falls, Rhone Island. What is that like? Who participates?

Bueno de Mesquita: For the past eight years Prof. Paul Bueno de Mesquita, psychology professor and center director, has taken a group of University of Rhode Island students to Central Falls to deliver lessons from the Second Step Violence Prevention curriculum. These engaging lessons focus on teaching children social and emotional skills to help them be successful in school, develop empathy, and problem solve. This year we have a team of nine students who teach 30-minute lessons to every kindergarten class in Central Falls (over 200 children) every week. We are very proud to say that every kindergarten teacher not only participates but follows through each week with supportive activities to strengthen these newly learned skills.

Plumitallo: Are there any children’s books you could point to that you find deeply ingrained with principles of nonviolence?

Bueno de Mesquita: Yes, I have an entire list of them in categories of ages and grades. I use fiction and nonfiction. In most fine literature there is a conflict. We can easily discover examples of the six nonviolence principle in these stories. When children learn to identify conflict and principles in literature they are often able to transfer this to their own lives. Here’s my short list of some elementary picture or chapter books that include great examples of Dr. King’s Six Principles, and that have led to great discussions:

  • Byrd Baylor, The Table where Rich People Sit, New York: Aladdin Simon & Schuster, 1998.
  • Janell Cannon, Stellaluna, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993.
  • Andrew Clements, The Jacket, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.
  • Robert Coles, The Story of Ruby Bridges, New York: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2010.
  • Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, New York: Laurel Leaf Books, 2000.
  • Arun Gandhi, Grandfather Gandhi, New York: Atheneum, 2012.
  • Kristen Levine, The Lions of Little Rock, New York: Puffin Books, 2013.
  • Jerry Spinelli, Maniac McGee, New York: Little Brown, 1999.
  • Nikki Giovanni, Rosa, New York: Square Fish Books, 2007.
  • Kevin Henkes, Chrysanthemum, New York: Greenwillow Books-Harper Collins, 1991.
  • Derek Munson, Enemy Pie, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2000.
  • Walter Dean Myers, I’ve Seen the Promised Land, The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., New York: Amistad Publishing, 2012.
  • Allen Say, The Bicycle Man, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1989.
  • Eileen Spinelli, Sophie’s Masterpiece: A Spider’s Tale, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
  • Jacqueline Woodson, Each Kindness, New York: Nancy Paulsen Books-Penguin, 2012.


The standard text of Dr. King’s Six Principles follows below, courtesy of the King Center,

Six Principles of Nonviolence

Principle One: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

Principle Two: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

Principle Three: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.

Principle Four: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

Principle Five: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.

Principle Six: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kay Johnson Bueno de Mesquita is the education coordinator for the Nonviolence and Peace Center, University of Rhode Island, and also teaches in URI School of Education. She was trained in nonviolence by Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., with whom she has co-authored, In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma (Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 2013) about Bernard’s civil rights experiences during the Alabama Voting Rights Campaign in Selma, 1963-1965. The interview is with the permission of Kay Johnson Bueno de Mesquita and the University of Rhode Island, Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies;

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi