Peace and Non-Violence: the Teachings of Gandhi
by Jean Hoffmann

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Activities for Social Studies, Literature, or Philosophy classes. All activities can be adjusted to appropriate levels based on the teacher’s choice of reading materials.

Lesson Goals:

  • To help high school students understand Gandhian principles and to extend to their own lives.
  • To focus on nonviolence, justice, equality on personal, community, national and global levels.

    To use Gandhi’s philosophy in teaching Gandhi’s philosophy, extending beyond the mere study of the personality.

Background Information:

For teachers I recommend for an article by Barry Burke. Here you will also find useful links to various Gandhi sites, including a link to the Yahoo Gandhi directory—a good start for students. Also, for Gandhi’s writings on education check out

Another source for background information for teachers and students is the PBS website “A Force More Powerful” available at
Videos: Strength Through Peace; Solutions to Violence (Available for purchase through the UW-Madison Center for South Asian Studies).


The Gandhian philosophy is the only solution to all problems, and for settling even sensitive issues amicably. – Ravindra Varma, founder and president of the Indian Institute of Gandhian Studies

True education is that which trains all the three abilities, spiritual, intellectual, and economic, simultaneously. – Dr. S. Javaraj, research officer of the Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

It is not hard to find material on the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. In an effort to promote the ideas of peace and nonviolence in our schools and communities all students should at some point in their lives consider the wisdom extolled by this great thinker and activist. In this lesson I have chosen to avoid the controversial aspects of Mahatma Gandhi and instead focus on the positive aspects of his teachings. Gandhi wanted educators to work toward educating the whole person—focusing on not only the intellect, but the spiritual and creative realms as well.

1. Preface to activities:

Ask students how they define power – what are some methaphorical images? And discuss.

Ask students to write about what they find beautiful. Discuss.

Ask students what they know about Gandhi and the struggle for independence in India.

Present with background information. Present Dr. S. Jeyapragasam’s Key concepts of Gandhian Philosophy. Have students read through the handout and write out an initial response answering the question “What were Gandhian principles based upon?” and extending beyond the obvious answer “non-violence.” After this initial response, have students construct a reaction. This could be a one to two period (45-50 minute) lesson.

2. Present students with reading materials or have them find their own via Internet searches. Assign readings and responses. Time: varies according to readings assigned.

Suggested activities:

Activity 1: Group Work

Break down the concepts from Dr. Jeyapragasam’s handout and divide students into groups, each assigned to one section. Have each group find examples of people (local, national, international) who exemplify given principles and examples of violations. Ask students to recommend alternative actions for violations. Suggested time: One period for construction of responses; one to two periods (depending upon class size) for presentation of material.

Activity 2: Large Group-Small Group/ Critical Thinking

Large group— 15-20 minutes: Have students list forms of violence at various levels; extend beyond the obvious to underlying forms of violence that students may not initially think of (beyond torture, murder or child abuse to pollution, fear, anger, arrogance, theft, apartheid, jealousy, computer hacking, etc). Small group— 20-25 minutes: suggest ways to combat each practice. List the relief work needed in and around you at the micro and macro levels. Suggest ways to enhance love and empathy levels. Group debriefing: 20-35 minutes (depending on class size).

Activity 3: Activism

Have students identify need for change in your school, community, state or the nation. Have them choose to either develop a plan for a non-violent demonstration promoting change or volunteer in an organization that works toward social change. For this activity, devote one class period to identification of need and preparation of action plan. Have students implement activities outside of class, allowing 1-2 weeks. As a writing component, have students reflect upon their experiences. Allow one class period for oral presentations of the reflections.

Activity 4: Activism

Ask students to define activism and reflect on the question “what can activism accomplish? ” (10-15 minutes) In a large group discussion ask students to identify activists in the community, state, nation, etc. (10-15 minutes). Have students research present-day peace activists answering the following questions and preparing presentation materials:

1. Who are they and what progress have they made?
2. How do their activities reflect Gandhian principles?
3. In what ways are the concerns and strategies of US activists similar to and/or different from those in other countries?
4. How could these activists improve their practices?
(50-120 minutes)
Have students present their findings to the class w/charts, pictures, and oral presentations (50-100 minutes, depending on class size). Grade based on thoroughness of research, quality of visual aids, and accuracy of information.

Activity 5: Writing one’s own Experiment with Truth

Have students brainstorm and write about ways to incorporate nonviolent principles into their own lives using Dr. Jeyapragasam’s chart as a guide. For example, to remove violent practices (addiction, discrimination, physical or emotional abuse of siblings or parents), to prevent violent practices from taking hold (religious fundamentalism consumerism), to nourish existing non-violent practices (enriching compassion, volunteerism), to welcome and adopt any new non-violent practice (simplicity, repent for past mistakes) etc. (20-30 minutes). Suggest that students use their brainstorming to create poetry, prose, song lyrics, narrative essays, dramatic skits, sculpture, collages, murals, etc— Ask for polished pieces for presentation or publication.

Activity 6: Research

Divide students into groups to explore various aspects of Gandhian thought: Self-reliance and the Khadi movement/salt march; Gandhi’s philosophy on basic education; Gandhi’s philosophy on villages (how to build a village to make it democratic); religious and caste harmony. After researching have students demonstrate knowledge in a creative format: (for example, create their own village or make thread from cotton while explaining significance).

Resources and Recommended Readings:

- Mahatma Gandhi: An Experiment in Truth (full text or excerpts)
- Collected Works, Mahatma Gandhi
- Mahatma Gandhi’s Inaugural Address to the All India National Education Conference in Wardha held Oct 22 and 23, 1937
- Various Internet Resources: have students do Gandhi searches—plenty of resources available.
- Packet Handout: Key Concepts of Gandhian Philosophy

Recommended Viewing:

- Gandhi (director Richard Attenborough; starring Ben Kingsley)
- India Defying the Crown (available through the Center for South Asia, UW-Madison)

Cross References to other themes:

- Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience
- Articles on Peace Rallying prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Nobel Peace Prize winners/ Gandhi-King Awards for Non-Violence
- Gender: 2002 Acceptance Speech by Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi

Standards hit in these lessons

A. Reading and Literature Content Standard

Students in Wisconsin will read and respond to a wide range of writing to build an understanding of written materials, of themselves and of others.
12.1 Use effective reading strategies to achieve their purposes in reading.
12.2 Read, interpret, critically analyze literature.
12.3 Read and discuss literary and nonliterary texts in order to understand human experience.
12.4 Read to acquire information.

B. Writing Content Standard

Students in Wisconsin will write clearly and effectively to share information and knowledge, to influence and persuade, to create and entertain.
12.1 Create or produce writing to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
12.2 Plan, revise, edit, and publish clear and effective writing.

C. Oral Language

Students in Wisconsin will listen to understand and will speak clearly and effectively for diverse purposes.
12.1 Prepare and deliver oral presentations appropriate to specific purposes and audiences
12.2 Listen to, discuss, and comprehend oral communication
12.3 Participate effectively in discussion

E. Media and Technology

Students will use media and technology critically and creatively to obtain, organize, prepare and share information; to influence and persuade; to entertain and be entertained
12.1 Use computers to acquire, organize, analyze, and communicate information
12.2 Make informed judgments about media and products

F. Research and Inquiry

Students in Wisconsin will locate, use, and communicate information from a variety of print and nonprint resources.
12.1 Conduct research and inquiry on self-selected or assigned topics, issues, or problems and use an appropriate form to communicate their findings


Key Concepts of Gandhian Philosophy
Dr. S. Jeyapragasam

Love: of self, God, nature, fellow humans; love as compassion, warmth, kindness, friendship, empathy, fraternity, altruism, service, mercy, help, sharing, trusteeship, non-possession; love as healing, patience, tolerance, reconciliation, forgiving, repentance, sacrifice, mutual aid, solidarity.

Nonviolent action: in lifestyle, economics, politics, society, defense policy, institutions and organizations, education and communication, child upbringing, approaches to crime and punishment, direct action for peace w/justice, peaceful resolution of conflicts, constructive work to build up a nonviolent world order, relief and rehabilitation work; removing structural (indirect) violence. Non-killing: disarmament, preventing accidents and calamities, non-injury in both human and non-human contexts.

Nonviolent Ethics and values: spiritual and ethical religion; joy with conscience, reasoning and responsibility; human-centered, eco-friendly, holistic, ethical and sustainable science and technology, economics, politics, society; human rights and responsibilities; purity of means and ends; welfare of all and welfare of last first.

Truth: Truthfulness, honesty, transparency, accountability, expanding conscience, awareness and responsibility; justice with compassion; taking responsibility for past mistakes, errors, sins; repentance and apology; avoidance of repetition of mistakes, freedom from ignorance, errors, mistakes, sins; pluralism; understanding of the multiplicity of truth; humility and respect for others’ truths; holding on to relative truth but continuing quest for further truth; attempting to arrive at a consensus on key issues; quest for truth; testing truth with reason.

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