ERIC Identifier: ED338791
Publication Date: 1991-06-00
Author: Inger, Morton
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Conflict Resolution Programs in Schools. ERIC/CUE Digest Number
As in life in general, some conflict is a normal occurrence in all schools.
It is often particularly pervasive in urban schools, as a result of their large
size, limited resources, and greatly diverse populations. To cope with the
institutional problems created by conflict, and to help students and staff
handle conflict better, conflict resolution has recently been legitimized as a
valid topic of discussion and study. There are now thousands of school-based
programs in the nation. Students are learning a new way of fighting, listening
to the other person's viewpoints and discussing their differences until a
compromise can be worked out.
The programs are in every state, in rural schools as well as inner-city
schools, and they involve children from kindergarten through high school. For
Three-fourths of San Francisco's public schools have student conflict managers.
In New York City, more than 100 schools with about 80,000 students have some
kind of program.
In Chicago, all students take a dispute resolution course in ninth or tenth
In New Mexico, a statewide mediation program involves 30,000 students.
In Ann Arbor, a conflict management curriculum reaches all of the city's
CONFLICT RESOLUTION DEFINED
Conflict resolution is a
constructive approach to interpersonal and intergroup conflicts that helps
people with opposing positions work together to arrive at mutually acceptable
compromise solutions. The term now also refers to the body of knowledge and
practice developed to realize the approach. Conflict resolution programs can
encompass any or all of a variety of components. Roughly they fall into two
categories: (1) programs in which the disputants work among themselves to settle
their differences, and (2) programs in which a mediator (an uninvolved,
impartial "third party") helps the disputants reach agreement.
The major themes of conflict resolution programs are active listening, where
participants summarize what each has said to ensure accurate comprehension;
cooperation between disputants; acceptance of each other's differences; and
creative problem-solving, which takes into account each disputant's position.
The programs emphasize learning from experience, with teachers serving as
facilitators and coaches. Through role-playing and a variety of team projects,
students learn how to deal with anger and how to work with others to arrive at
win-win solutions. Schools with mediation programs use students as mediators so
they can learn from experience how conflicts can be resolved peacefully.
Educators like Teachers College's Morton Deutsch laid the theoretical
groundwork for conflict resolution programs, arguing that schools should not try
to eliminate or prevent conflict but should encourage and promote lively,
effective controversy; conflict prevents stagnation, stimulates interest and
curiosity, allows problems to be aired, and is at the root of personal and
THE VALUE OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN SCHOOLS
resolution, along with its student mediation component, is being promoted as "the Fourth R" by some advocates. While growth of this movement is partly a
response to the spread of violence among the young, its value can transcend
simple crime prevention. San Francisco's Community Board Center for Policy and
Training, which in 1982 introduced a model for student mediation programs, sees
conflict management as an essential skill for a democratic society. And, some of
the programs in New York City are part of a broader peace education curriculum
that also addresses prejudice, discrimination, sexism, and racism.
Despite the spread of conflict resolution programs to all parts of the
nation, there are considerable differences in the available resources and in the
extent and scope of the programs. Some districts offer only a mediation
component, with the sole goal of cutting down on student violence. Others start
with mediation and then add a conflict resolution curriculum that calls for more
active student participation. Some districts have tried to operate on a
shoestring; others have received outside support and have adopted conflict
resolution on a large scale, with efforts anchored to a curriculum.
One of New York's programs, Resolving
Conflict Creatively (RCCP), is a good example of a curriculum-based program.
RCCP is a collaborative effort between New York City's Board of Education and a
nonprofit group, Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR). RCCP, which began in
1985 with 18 teachers in three schools, now involves over 1,000 teachers and
30,000 students in 100 elementary and secondary schools and in special education
Curriculum. RCCP offers a ten-unit curriculum with lessons on intergroup
relations, cooperative learning, and dispute resolution techniques. While
classroom teachers set aside time for lessons in conflict resolution, they are
encouraged to infuse conflict resolution skills into other subject areas.
Student Mediators. In 12 of the schools, 20 to 40 students a year in fourth,
fifth, and sixth grades get three days of mediation training. They then serve as
mediators, facilitating communication between disputants. Student mediators do
not act as judges or police officers. RCCP introduces student mediation only in
schools that have been participating in the conflict resolution program for at
least a year and have a group of teachers who regularly use the RCCP curriculum.
Training. RCCP provides a 20-hour training course for teachers; mediator
training for interested students, parents, and staff; and "outreach seminars" to
help all students become aware that a nonviolent technique is available at the
school for resolving conflicts. Parents attend ten four-hour workshops and then
lead work-shops for others.
Evaluation. Since the programs around
the nation are relatively new, there are no quantitative studies of their impact
available yet. The International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution
has completed a longitudinal study, to be published in 1992.
Students report that they feel better about themselves and safer at school.
They handle conflicts quickly, sometimes taking only minutes to deal with
situations. Many schools report that student mediators help solve large numbers
of disputes (in New York, they resolve an average of 100 disputes a year at each
school in the program) and that the disputes remain settled in the vast majority
of cases. Often the best student mediators are those who had been considered
Teachers report fewer fights and more caring student behavior.
Administrators, noticing improved attendance and a dramatic decline in the
number of suspensions, find that they spend less time on disciplinary matters.
One of the long-term benefits of this new approach is that students,
teachers, and parents can arrive at a change in attitude toward conflict: they
progress from seeing it as either a problem to be swept under the rug or an
opening for confrontation (both of which are harmful) to seeing it as a process
that defines values and leads to growth.
Key Components. Conflict resolution programs are best used as part of a
long-range comprehensive plan to improve the learning climate at a school and to
teach students alternatives to violence. Thus, conflict resolution should be
included as a regular part of the school programs and curricula.
THE FUTURE OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Training. Although there
is a growing body of practice and theory, the conflict resolution movement is
less than ten years old. Conflict resolution is not yet part of the curriculum
in the vast majority of colleges of education. Inservice teacher training for
these programs comes from outside consultants and is limited; as a result,
teachers are not trained in conflict resolution as extensively as they are in
their subject areas.
Funding. Since most of the money for school programs has come from outside
sources, a key concern is whether they can become self-sustaining.
Institutionalizing conflict resolution theory and practices by absorbing them
into the administrative and managerial structure of the school, and infusing
them into as much of the curricula as possible, would not only help contain
costs. It would help everyone in the school (staff, parents, and students)
integrate conflict resolution into their lives.
American Bar Association's Special Committee on
M St., NW
Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR)
Riverside Dr., Room 450
York, NY 10115
International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution
6, Teachers College, Columbia University
York, NY 10027
National Association for Mediation in Education (NAME)
National Institute for Dispute Resolution
L St., NW, Suite 600
Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP)
York City Public Schools
Third Ave., Room 239
York, NY 10003
School Initiatives Program
Board Center for Policy and Training
Francisco, CA 94103
Deutsch, M. (1987). A framework for teaching
conflict resolution in the schools. Unpublished manuscript. International Center
for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, Teachers College, Columbia University,
New York, NY 10027.
Lam, J.A. (1988). The impact of conflict resolution programs on schools: A
review and synthesis of the evidence. Amherst: University of Massachusetts
Mitchell, V. (1990). Curriculum and instruction to reduce racial conflict.
ERIC Digest No. 64. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, ERIC
Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ED322274)
Rifkin, J. (1991, Spring). An overview of dispute resolution in educational
institutions. National Institute for Dispute Resolution FORUM, 1-4.
Roderick, T. (1987/1988). Johnny can learn to negotiate. Educational
Leadership, (4), 86-90.
Stichter, C. (1986). When tempers flare, let trained student mediators put
out the flames. American School Board Journal, 173 (3), 41-42.
Teltsch, K. (1990, December 26). Reacting to rising violence, schools
introduce 'fourth R': Reconciliation. The New York Times, p. B15.