Kids learn how to avoid fights Conflict-resolution program teaches kids to work out woes.

March 06, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Charles Lund is no stranger to conflict -- or to the practical difficulties in working it out.

"You might walk down the street a couple of blocks, and you might get into a fight over your tennis shoes," says Lund, an eighth-grader at Canton Middle School.

And though he knows that fighting is seldom a good solution, Lund is realistic about what happens in the real world.

"Some people just don't think it over," he says. "Because everybody is jumping in, saying, 'Hit him!' They just don't think about it.

"I know I didn't," he adds.

Now, he and hundreds of other Canton students are getting some practical lessons in how to settle quarrels without fighting.

Known as conflict resolution, the techniques stress communication, compromise and the role that a third-party mediator can play.

The students are part of a unique mentoring program at the southeast Baltimore school, funded through a $28,000 grant from the Abell Foundation.

The program, still in its first year, pairs sixth- and eighth-graders in a yearlong series of sessions dealing with issues of interest to students.

And conflict resolution is high on that list, says Corinne Braker, program coordinator.

L "The need is greater than it was 50 years ago," says Braker.

Students are bombarded by images of violence and conflict on television and movies, she says. "There is a permissiveness in our society that has been encouraged, promoted. Children don't have a sense of right and wrong, except for what that poor parent teaches."

When conflicts are badly handled, the result can be academic problems, poor self-esteem among students and harm to the school climate, says Braker.

To help counter that, the program offers a four-week series of sessions, once or twice a week, focusing on the best ways to deal with a conflict.

Students look at common types of conflicts that affect them -- being called a name, for example, or having something stolen from them.

And they discuss ways in which conflicts can be resolved through calm discussion, mediation and compromise instead of fighting.

Though the program steers clear of any specific religious philosophy, "the Judeo-Christian ethic of peace is taught," says Braker. "Love your brother, no revenge . . . The prevalent ethic in our society is reinforced.

"You don't kill, you don't fight, you turn the other cheek as near as possible."

The program already has made a difference in the way students deal with routine quarrels, according to Craig E. Spilman, principal of the school.

"I'm seeing more easily resolved conflicts, and some student interaction," says Spilman. "The conflict still boils -- I'm just not seeing it boil over the rim of the pot."

He cites as an example a recent conflict between two students who got into a shouting match after a name-calling incident. Rather than separate the two, Spilman told them to talk things over -- and was pleasantly surprised when they solved the quarrel on their own.

"If this causes that to happen just once, we've been successful," he said of the conflict-resolution program.

And though conflicts are inevitable, some students now recognize that there can be alternatives to fighting.

"If you think the only way to resolve it is to fight, then you fight," says Lund, the eighth-grader. But he adds, "You might think about it and you might think it's not the right thing to do . . . To know it is to stop doing it."

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