Mediation skillimportant as teaching aid
"Schools can prevent violence by teaching conflict resolution skills."
The Maryland State Department of Education featured this hopeful message at a recent statewide conference for 550 educators and concerned citizens.
Misunderstandings and verbal abuse, like teasing, name-calling, put-downs, threats and hurtful rumors, upset children and hinder their ability to focus on school work. Misunderstandings and verbal abuse sometimes escalate into violence.
Conference participants heard how some educators are teaching students to deal constructively with misunderstandings and verbal abuse.
For example, staff from two schools explained how they are integrating conflict resolution skills throughout their schools. Their administrators and teachers are learning to model and teach the skills; they are starting peer mediation programs; and they are giving informational packets to parents.
Another school teaches every sixth-grader 30 lessons on communication, anger management and other conflict resolution skills. Another infuses conflict resolution concepts into reading, language arts and social studies classes.
Some teach conflict resolution skills in multicultural contexts.
In a number of schools, student peer mediators help other students who are having difficulties dealing with misunderstandings, anger or verbal abuse.
For example, student mediators at one large high school are on track this year to do 1,000 mediations and help 2,000 students resolve their disputes. These mediations are preventing the 1,000 disputes from possibly escalating into physical violence and are enabling the 2,000 students involved to return more quickly to their school work.
Schools are teaching, or are considering teaching, impulse control, anger management and other conflict-resolution skills to suspended students and to students who are disciplinary transfers. Plans are afoot for a program to teach the skills to students on probation.
But conflict resolution is not a quick fix. Conflict resolution programs tend to be mediocre or tend to fail if schools do not fulfill two basic requirements for long-term success.
One requirement is that administrators and teachers understand what programs cost in time, money and personnel, and then make appropriate commitments.
For example, one Maryland school's peer mediation program in its second year did over 500 mediations, and suspensions decreased 55 percent. Yet there was no program the third year.
Its coordinator had promoted the program, arranged and monitored 500 mediations, debriefed disputants and mediators, provided ongoing training for the mediators and dealt with the paperwork.
But she was still expected to do her previous full-time job in the school. She burned out.
The other requirement for long-term success is that school administrators and teachers learn conflict resolution skills themselves, so that they model and reinforce the behaviors that they are teaching the students. It does little good for teachers to teach students about put-downs while using put-downs themselves.
According to the National Association for Mediation in Education, which has observed programs around the country for 10 years, programs that lack this two-fold foundation have limited success and impact.
Creative conflict resolution involves thinking and behaving constructively. It is not a fad. It is a necessity in today's violent world.
I am gratified that some schools are starting to teach these skills. I look forward to the day when all children and all their teachers have the opportunity to learn them. It can be done.
Next for Pigtown
In The Evening Sun Jan. 2, the headline read "Pigtown: the Wounded Neighborhood." Well, the city had a lot to do with the wounding of Pigtown.
First they restricted parking in this district for Camden Yards. Then they cut three bus lines through Pigtown to serve a light rail system that bypasses Pigtown. Then they took the bus stop shelter away at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Barre Streets. What's next?
A lot of good people still live and work in Pigtown. We are not all prisoners in our homes. We enjoy our evenings too.
Philip A. Thayer
The slaughter on our highways due to drunk driving will go on forever unless individuals and institutions share some of the responsibility. As it is now, only the driver and the courts have the power to keep drunk drivers off the roads, but it is not working.
Here is a suggestion: A second conviction for drunk driving should result in confiscation of the car as well as loss of the operator's license. If the car is not paid for, it would be returned to the holder of the title.
However, just as gun dealers are expected to make background checks on customers, car dealers should also be required to check the driving records of car buyers before they finalize the sale.