ERIC Identifier: ED377255
Publication Date: 1994-05-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Anti-Bias and Conflict Resolution Curricula: Theory and
Practice. ERIC/CUE Digest No. 97.
A common saying among educators working to promote children's appreciation of
diversity is that there is no gene for racism. Thus, they believe that even
though children may initially develop and act on intolerant attitudes, they can
be educated to value human differences.
At an early age, children notice differences among the people around them,
often in relation to their own characteristics (Hohensee & Derman-Sparks,
1992). They soon become aware that certain human differences are connected with
power and privilege, while others cause people to be treated less respectfully
(Derman-Sparks & the A.B.C. Task Force, 1989). In addition, they are more
apt to be taught that intolerance is an acceptable reaction to diversity than
how to deal creatively and nonviolently with conflict, anger, and other
unpleasant emotions (Siraj-Blatchford, 1994). As a result, young children may
develop "pre-prejudice": misconceptions, discomfort, fear, and rejection of
differences that can blossom into full-fledged prejudice if they are not helped
to overcome their initial negative feelings (Derman-Sparks & the A.B.C. Task
Force, 1989). Moreover, given "the relative imperviousness of adult prejudice to
the effects of conflicting evidence and experience," it appears that
predispositions acquired at early developmental levels may lay a potent
foundation for later racism (Katz, 1982, p. 18).
TOLERANCE, CONFLICT RESOLUTION, AND VIOLENCE PREVENTION
The recent increase in youth hatred suggests that these
predispositions are stronger in children and adolescents today than in the past.
In addition, given easier access to more powerful weapons, the consequences of
violent reactions to these feelings are more severe.
Thus, a large number of educators, and community and religious leaders, are
now committed to teaching children how to overcome prejudices and to manage
anger constructively. Indeed, conflict resolution curricula are becoming known
as the fourth "R," for "resolution." While programs to prevent youth bias crimes
have been in use for decades, in the last five years their number has grown
dramatically; national estimates now top 1,000.
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education recently conducted a survey to
identify anti-bias projects providing services nationally to schools and
organizations, and those with programs easily replicable by local educators. The
result is A Directory of Anti-Bias Education Resources and Services, comprised
of profiles of 52 such projects. This digest, based on the information provided
for the directory, describes the different programmatic approaches to bias
reduction and violence prevention.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PROJECTS
characteristics of anti-bias projects for youth, teachers, and caregivers are
Some projects take the practical
position that people in a diverse society simply must learn how to live with one
another peaceably. Using a behavior modification model, they train people how to
refrain from acting on their prejudices, assuming that once people become
accustomed to controlling their public expression of biases, their attitudes
will naturally begin to soften.
Projects with the reverse perspective--that changes in behavior commonly
follow changes in attitude--may be based on various philosophies: secular
morality, religion, or politics. These projects have the potential of
engendering fundamental reforms in people's belief systems, but their appeal can
be limited, because trainees must first accept the validity of the project's
philosophy. For example, in order for projects based on Biblical teachings to be
effective, trainees must first accept religious moral authority.
Although most training programs deal with
all the issues described below, their emphases can vary greatly.
PREJUDICE, BIAS, AND DISCRIMINATION REDUCTION
assume that the root cause of prejudice is the same regardless of its specific
target; their training concentrates on helping people overcome a need to
victimize others. A few projects hold the wider view that bias is built into the
power relationships in U.S. political and economic institutions, or that
individual acts of bias are a reaction to legislation eroding personal autonomy;
they encourage trainees to work for social reforms as well as to make personal
Other projects tackle bias almost on a case-by-case basis, discussing reasons
why particular groups are targeted and dispelling myths about them. These
anti-bias projects are usually components of larger organizations that advocate
or provide services for specific ethnic or cultural groups. While they
concentrate on discrimination against the group they represent, most also cover
bias generally. Conversely, some projects, frequently those with a religious
orientation, may not believe in full equality for all segments of society (woman
and gays in particular), and may therefore omit references to certain groups in
CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND MEDIATION
The projects described
above that focus on bias reduction believe that conflicts will decrease
naturally from an increase in tolerance. Other projects, believing that bias
will be reduced in the same manner as other disputes are settled, concentrate on
teaching conflict resolution and mediation skills, and address prejudice as just
one cause of conflict among many. While traditional mediation works toward a "win-win" compromise, some of these projects believe that continued expressions
of bias are an unacceptable part of a settlement agreement. Further, some
conflict resolution trainers are committed to social and economic justice as
well as to settling differences between individuals; they will not consider a
conflict resolved unless justice is served, even if the disputants agree to a
Here, project differences about
whether to focus on attitude or behavior are especially pronounced. The majority
of projects deal with violence as but one manifestation of hatred, and expect it
to lessen as prejudicial beliefs erode. But a few take the opposite position
that learning to channel negative emotions into positive actions will diffuse
hatred (regardless of its source or target) and lead automatically to less
conflict and violence. These emphasize management of emotions, especially anger.
Others hold that changes in conduct, such as refusing to engage in violence,
will lead to better emotional control. These projects usually also treat
conflict resolution and violence prevention as separable issues, teaching
trainees to diffuse or avoid violent confrontations, regardless of their cause,
without attempting to settle the dispute. Changing attitudes toward violence and
weapons in general is the core of this approach.
Whereas a goal of some projects may be simply an absence of conflict and
violence, others are satisfied only when trainees commit to the principles of
active nonviolence--social harmony and justice--as an integral part of their
Projects use both trainers and resource
materials, but the mix varies. At one end of the spectrum are programs based
almost totally on interaction between trainers and trainees. They may have a
basic syllabus to cover, but are guided by concerns raised during role play and
group discussion. A few projects send out multicultural training teams as a way
of demonstrating harmony in action.
At the other end of the spectrum are projects that rely on printed and
audiovisual materials and whose program is almost scripted. Here, trainers
function more like traditional classroom teachers, and trainees take a less
active role in the learning process. Indeed, some such programs use trainers
very little, opting instead to provide teachers with instruction guides for
teaching an anti-bias course themselves.
Most projects use a mix of methods; they take a hands-on approach initially,
and then leave materials for teachers to use subsequently. Some projects include
a return visit by trainers for follow-up and evaluation.
The underlying philosophy of a project
significantly influences the populations that it trains. Projects focusing on
behavior modification usually work only with young people, or train teachers to
use an anti-bias curriculum without first undergoing anti-bias training
themselves. Projects dealing with bias directly are more apt to train school
people and caregivers as well as students, believing that young people will be
unable to rid themselves of prejudices that are constantly reinforced by the
adults around them. A few projects work only with the staffs of school systems
and schools, positing that unless the members of these communities learn to
solve their own conflicts constructively, they will not be able to teach
students to do so.
SELECTING A PROJECT
The service packages of the various
projects differ as much as their programs. Therefore, institutions wanting to
provide educational anti-bias training must not only select philosophy and
emphasis, but also the type and amount of services. Interestingly, some projects
with very different philosophies offer very similar programs, so it is important
to get a detailed description of program content.
Some projects offer a standard program package that they believe is most
effective, while others have modular programs with components that clients can
contract for individually, to meet specific needs. Some sell resources for
do-it-yourself anti-bias training; others make materials available only as part
of their service package.
Most projects charge a fee for service (although some are subsidized by
grants); in general the more comprehensive the program and the more
sophisticated the materials, the higher the charge. While high fees may seem
prohibitive, training may require fewer human and material resources from the
school, which can help offset the cost.
Derman-Sparks, L., & the A.B.C. Task Force.
(1989). Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children. Washington,
DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. (ED 305 135)
Hohensee, J.B., & Derman-Sparks, L. (1992). Implementing an anti-bias
curriculum in early childhood classrooms. ERIC Digest. Urbana, IL: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Childhood Education. (ED 351 146)
Katz, P.A. (1982). Development of children's racial awareness and intergroup
attitudes. In L.G. Katz, Current topics in early childhood education (vol. IV).
Norwood, NJ: Ablex. (ED 250 100)
Siraj-Blatchford, I. (1994). The early years: Laying the foundations for
racial equality. Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England: Trentham Books.
This digest is based on A Directory of Anti-Bias Education Resources and
Services, by Wendy Schwartz with Lynne Elcik.