Educators urged to teach ways to resolve conflict

April 22, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Linda Lantieri looks to the future with fear. Violence among children -- not to mention society -- is growing.

"Where there's racism, there's violence. Where there's poverty, there's violence. Where there's drugs, there's violence," said the coordinator of New York city public schools' Resolving Conflict Creatively Program.

The solution is education -- teaching children to handle their anger in different ways, said Ms. Lantieri, keynote speaker at yesterday's statewide conference on conflict resolution and peer mediation.

"We as a society have to do more to prevent the epidemic -- violence, our No. 1 health problem," she said, noting that children are dying first of car accidents, second, of violence and third, of suicide.

More than 400 principals, teachers and parents from as far away as Caroline County attended the all-day conference, sponsored by the state Department of Education and held at the Oakland Mills Meeting House in Columbia. They attended a dozen workshops that addressed strategies for staff development, models of peer mediation and how parents can break the cycle of violence for and with their children, among others.

"Violence is growing," said Bob Krasnansky, conference organizer. "It's possible to teach children how to deal with conflicts in alternate ways. Every child can be taught this."

Ms. Lantieri, whose program is now in four other school systems in Anchorage, Alaska, New Orleans and South Maples, Calif., listed ideas that educators could use to set up peer mediation programs:

* Teach students about conflict resolution in the curriculum. Every student will then know what is expected of them in school. "There has to be a strong foundation at first," she said.

* Offer extensive staff training for teachers; make sure administrators and superintendents buy into the program, and open doors for consultants and experts to help implement programs. "We need to make experts connect with school systems," she said.

* Be wary of conflict resolution programs that promise quick fixes. Work with parents as well as students and teachers.

"The Rambos of this world are pathetic," Ms. Lantieri said. "They can only think of one solution. The real heroes and 'sheroes' are those who think about [fixing problems] passionately."

Many educators at the conference wanted information to improve their own programs. Others, like Michael Gough, director of security for Montgomery County schools, came to see how he could teach his security staff to deal with student conflicts and to prevent fights.

Many school systems around Maryland have sophisticated conflict resolution programs, but others are just starting and face problems incorporating them. Some teachers, in Baltimore for example, resist peer mediation because "they're used to a more authoritarian means of discipline," said Candace Blase, a project coordinator for the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program who works with Baltimore schools.

Ms. Blase works with four Baltimore middle and elementary schools, and in the ones where conflict resolution programs have succeeded, she said she's seen great improvements -- a 25 percent to 50 percent decline in disciplinary referrals in one school, she said.

"I've seen an incredible change in students' self-esteem, both in peer mediators and in people who were disciplined. Kids are referring themselves to mediation."

Charles Bowens, an elementary school assistant principal in Anne Arundel County, attended to learn what can be done to change parents' attitudes.

"Children come to us with skills to resolve problems," he said. "But those are skills we may not want them to have. These are skills they learned from their parents. Whenever they have a problem, they want to strike out.

"Unless there's a change there, I don't care what the school does."

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