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Is conflict resolution a new listing to America’s educational menu? Or is it an educational necessity to treat the spreading violence in America? The lead stories in the media blast headlines about shootings, child abuse, domestic violence. The violence is even in our elementary schools.
As I examine the influences that have caused our students to become more violent in our schools, I see that a law and order approach will never develop a foundation of peace and cooperation. In fact, the strict authority figure and military style school only reinforces a one choice model that instills resentment and revenge. It is important that all schools have discipline, rules and consequences. But schools need to model non-violent conflict resolution. Taking ownership of all students requires tremendous problem solving efforts. The laws and rules are always changing. Each year, teachers face new curriculum, new students and they make a new plan to organize their time, space, materials and the children. These rules can be a helpful addition.
We are all learning new rules as we go about our daily lives. As I explored the many issues of family law, I realized that many of today’s students are unaware of rules and lack cooperative group skills. Children are coming to school with more social needs and teachers deal with more disruptive behavior than they did five years ago. The blurring of the line between disability and misbehavior, teacher authority and teacher respect and student rights and student responsibilities have clouded the issue of who knows the rules (Toby1994). As I planned this unit, I remembered the four basic questions that teachers would ask when I did workshops. The first was “Why should I do this curriculum unit?” My rationale is devoted to answering that question. The second was always, “Can the kids really learn to do this?”. If successful in presenting the concept, the last two questions were, “How do I do it and when can I start?”
Much of family law can be traced back to ancient times, for example, the code of Hammurabi was written in 2150 B. C. . It had many sections devoted to parent/child relations and it established the father as sovereign of familial power. The child was viewed as the property of the father and could be pledged to pay off a debt. The Greek and Roman laws also followed this strict format of family unity under one executive, the father. This influence is seen today in American courts and in society’s general philosophy. The concept of the state having a right to intervene on behalf of children did not appear until the Visigothic Code emerged around 500 A. D. Children here had the rights to life, and were not seen as an economic unit to be bought and sold.
The turning point for children’s rights came in 1696, when the state concept emerged as “parens patriae”, which means father of his country. This English Law meant that the crown could intervene for a child if property was involved. This authority later grew to include children’s rights. As with some of our modern interventions, some of the state’s interventions did not help children consistently. The Elizabethan Poor Laws were written in 1601 to provide relief for the poor. Children were put into the work force or were apprenticed, with thousands of children sent to the American colonies. The English then tried workhouses and a “Pauper Apprentice System”. These were also abolished due to the cruelty the systems inflicted on children without parents (Davis 1987).
The “parens patriae” doctrine was adopted by the American legal system and is still used to intervene in the parent/child relationship but there are several difficulties with this doctrine. First, it outlines the child’s negative rights, as in the right to not be neglected, nor educated, and not physically beaten to the point of endangering his or her well-being. The parent is still viewed as having the child’s best interests at heart and the line for intervention remains fuzzy: it is legally held that the child is entitled to a “minimum, accepted community standard”. A third problem with the doctrine is the quality of service that occurs when the state is a provider. If one studies the best interests of the children, it becomes clear that no set of rules can delineate all the complexities of appropriate family functioning (Goldstein, Freud, Solnit, 1979).
But what can history tell us about the role of violence in the family?Children and their mothers were long subject to the father’s will in the name of family unity. The old saying, “a rule of thumb” comes from the rule that a man could not beat his wife with a rod thicker than his thumb. The children were not considered responsible for their actions under age seven and this common law of “doli incapax”also required children over seven to prove their competence (Melton, 1983). These rules and power patterns continue to influence the courts, our social institutions, and our myths about family life. It seems that our nation is putting the family in the repair shop for a multitude of problems without checking for the causes or thinking about a redesign.
But children are still quite vulnerable when their basic needs aren’t met. A healthy emotional climate is based on feeling safe and having basic physical needs met (Maslow, 1968). As these needs are met, basic trust and attachment start to flourish. Yet some families cannot offer nurturing aid. Some families are impaired due to poverty, mental illness, or violence. Some families are gatherings of angry and abusive people. Who will have the “best interests” for these children? The schools have responded with more Head Start Programs as lawmakers allocate funding to this preventative preschool program. The states have all passed child abuse reporting procedures and many social service programs. The courts cannot be counted on to deliver violence prevention because they react after the acts have happened and interpretations of the laws do not generally favor children. The decisions by our highest court members indicate that they can “flip flop in their views about whether to trust or distrust family members” (Minow, 1993). As they have balanced the scales of justice over the years, the Supreme Court justices have tended to support the needs of the state while weighing the rights of the parents. The rights of children are not clearly legislated and the interpretations tend to protect children but not give them autonomy or rights. Many writers are provoking debates on children’s rights so that the courts and law-makers will remove the barriers to children’s rights. When children are entitled to the quality of life that adults take for granted, then perhaps life, liberty and the pursuit of justice will translate to a quality of life that is not currently pursued. The school’s role in preventing violence needs to be a coordinated effort with standards of care and psychological health defined by law-makers and courts. My contention here is that the state and the parents need to share the responsibility with education so that children grow up with their full range of developmental needs taken care of (Burtt, 1994). I will focus on conflict resolution training for my unit project and I turn now to discuss the goals of this unit.
A second reason to consider violence prevention is that our system of laws and punishments is failing to curb violence. As policymakers and lawmakers identify the issues worthy of governmental attention, they carefully define and describe each problem. They label things as the “teen/parent problem, domestic abuse problem, gun violence problem and child abuse problem”. The policymakers shy away from considering the psychological structures or social structures that form the supports for continued abuse, violence and neglect (Minow, 1993). The enormous growth of social problems makes any analysis very complex. I have discussed how historically entrenched our various family and social structures are. It is difficult to change our beliefs and laws, despite the evidence that change needs to happen.
An additional question might be posed by the reader. Are the social controls and services so flawed that the educational system must provide an early base of social skills? Let us look at the facts for foster home placements in 1991. About 430, 000 children were in foster homes, group homes or institutional settings, which is fifty percent more than fives years earlier. In some states, infants comprise most of this growth surge (Children’s Defense Fund, 1992). These costly interventions require a severe failure to enter services and seldom able to remediate the complex problems. My informal talks with teachers indicate the every classroom has abused and disruptive students who require more help than any one teacher can give. There are promising practices in our social service system that correlate with conflict resolution skills. I see “the big family “as a classroom for the purposes of comparing the following exemplary practices for troubled children and families (Children’s Defense Fund, 1992).
1. Emphasize family unit instead of one individual. Conflict resolution training teaches the whole group to solve many types of problems with people in their class, school, family and home.
2. Build on family strengths instead of emphasizing deficits. Students can often continue behaviors that give them negative reinforcement or they can give up trying because they are “no good”. Conflict resolution encourages all attempts and accepts all ideas as good brainstorming material.
3. Prevent crisis instead of reacting to crisis. The goal of step one in conflict resolution is to stop and identify the problem as soon as it feels like a problem is occurring. It rewards persistence and puts no time-limit in talking.
4. Address family needs comprehensively instead of piecemeal. How many times have I heard a teacher say, “If only I didn’t have child x, y, or z in my room”, or seen the same child out in the hall. The group will always have problems and more special needs students are being serviced in the regular education setting. Children need more support services than ever and teachers can use a plan that keeps the peace by using more peer supports.
5. Treat families with respect and honor cultural differences. The diversity of urban students can cause isolation, name-calling and rejection in the early grades. The role-playing, talking, and cooperative planning in conflict resolution teaches how to take another person’s perspective. A New York City conflict program reported results that showed better rapport for both teachers and students (Glass, 1994).
6. Offer flexible, responsive services instead of rigid, single-purpose services. In education, we often limit ourselves to a two option choice system. Teacher authority was often a “Do it my way or get out”. Lessons were often a whole group “sit and listen”style. Children are still taught to fight or walk away. There is no one way to meet life’s little conflicts and the children need to practice generating many solutions to conflicts.
Once a clear understanding of conflict resolution is established, most educators wonder if six to eight year old’s can effectively utilize it. Current research indicated that children can become aware of their rights in a court of law. Some researchers state that children as young as six or four can play an active role in court proceedings(Leach, 1994). The second goal of my unit is to support my argument that this age group can learn conflict resolution skills. This unit can help children learn the concepts, practice the steps and reinforce their efforts to independently use the skills. If we can start early and modify the habits that breed violence, children will change. The underlying premise here is that we are all social beings who respond to our environmental reinforcers. Another theory of learning has influenced learning styles in early primary grades. It is Piaget’s theory that states how knowledge is gained. According to Piaget, education provides opportunities that allow a child to put experiences into systems or schemes. A child’s ability to learn is based on experiences and the child’s inborn curiosity. They can organize and initiate with conflict resolution because it is just another learning opportunity that makes cause and effect more explicit. His views, like many other learning theorists, puts an emphasis on a child’s strengths and not their deficits (Cook, Tessier, Armbruster, 1983). The lessons that a teacher can create are different than the traditional social studies unit on laws and rules. I prefer to view these lessons as a planned series of actions that cause students to change. The measure of success is the amount of curiosity and skillful observations that even learning disabled six year old’s can make. The teacher’s role becomes that of a facilitator who asks probing questions like the following:
Who do you think made the rule about no weapons in school?
Why is it unsafe to leave a baby alone?
How do stop signs help people?
Do families have laws and rules that they use?
How are we all the same and how are we different?
This type of inquiry promotes a cognitive development that is easily carried over to math and language lessons. Most teachers do not realize how frequently they do problem solving skills all day long. Children enjoy answering questions that make them think. A teacher can adapt any lesson to a current event that is in the headlines. A cultural holiday like Thanksgiving can be explored for the problems the Pilgrims had to conquer. The question of whether children can use this is like asking if children are people who are curious observers with feelings. The answer is a definite yes.
My third goal in forming this unit is to address the question of children’s rights and responsibilities. Children have a moral responsibility to know right from wrong. Young children hold very absolute views on right or wrong. They tend to be so egocentric that they cannot take on another person’s viewpoint. Some researchers note that role-taking opportunities are able to facilitate moral development. The opportunities to have decision-making power and role-taking opportunities was found to be often unavailable to economically disadvantaged groups (Melton, 1983). It is my argument that urban children need more opportunities to solve problems and role-play if there is to be a preventative force in combatting violence. Secondly, I feel that children need more legal rights to protect themselves from abusive situations. Is it subversive to tell children that their parents cannot beat then severely or injure them?I would counter that it is negligent to not inform both parent and child about ways of handling anger and the many dangers of violence. Over twenty-five years ago the phrase “battered child syndrome” was created to identify the child victims of angry beatings. Now all fifty states have laws and services to stop child abuse. Our quick fix labels help us stigmatize child abusers while our courts continue to look at children as private property. One judge has helped to organize the “National Task Force for Children’s Constitutional Rights”. Judge Gill notes that seventy-nine countries have protected their children in their constitution. Our children lack their basic civil rights. We let them be beaten in the homes of people who would be arrested if not for the protection of parental rights. He asks Americans to look at the crimes being committed by young people who were raised as “detached kids who never bothered anyone, have no conscience, no feeling”. He warns that we are not going to have enough hospitals, prisons or policemen if we don’t help children help themselves (Boyle, 1991). Children are a powerful ally in creating a better world. If educators can help them make good decisions and seek non-violent means to solve their problems, it will be many small steps in the right direction.
I plan on teaching this unit for six to ten weeks as an extension of the “Project Charlie” lessons 15-17, which deal with angry feelings. However, (an experimental) the component on fair rules will probably extend this time frame as it becomes a permanent classroom rule.
- 1. Describe a variety of physical and social problems that occur daily in school, home and community.
- 2. Develop some ideas why rules and laws are made in school, home and community.
- 3. Participate in decisions about rules and laws. 4. Learn that angry feelings and conflicts exist for everyone.
- 5. Learn how to handle anger using the five step plan.
- 6. Use plan spontaneously to solve problems.
- 7. Discuss how violence hurts people.
I feel this curriculum would be most appropriate for early primary grades like first or second grade. It can easily be adapted to third and fourth grades and all primary special education classes could utilize it.
The strategies will include:
- 1. Readings and discussions of books.
- 2. Writing down children’s feelings on charts, the five steps of conflict resolution.
- 3. Telling stories about real and make-believe characters who illustrate concepts.
- 4. Structured conversation practice to practice the rules of asking questions, conversing effectively and conflict resolution skills.
- 5. Interactive lessons that provide decision-making practice and role-playing.
- 6. Parent conflict resolution hand outs and discipline workshops.
- 7. A field trip to a law office to meet people who work with rules and laws who help settle conflicts.
- 8. To meet with principal and social worker to discuss rules in school and home.
|Purpose:||To teach children that many problems occur as a natural part of our daily living. These may be separated into physical and social problems. If the event makes you change your thinking or feeling, it might be a problem.|
- 1. Teacher introduces the word “conflict” on the board. Tell the children that this word tells us about events that make us feel puzzled, surprised or even frustrated and angry, (milk spills, a bike falls over). Ask the class to help you label some feelings that could happen when a problem occurs. Next ask them to imagine getting out of their bed in the morning. “As you put your feet on the floor, you felt a furry dog. Now there is a problem because it surprised you. How does the dog feel?” Accept any appropriate answer. Ask about what else they might step on in the morning. If it makes you feel or think, could be a conflict or a problem. Sometimes we wake up and it’s just a regular morning. We are able to relax and do our morning tasks and nothing changes.
- 2. Teacher reads “Wacky Wednesday” by Dr. Suess.
- 3. Teacher brings an unopened, tightly fitting pickle jar, (or a stapler remover) to the group. Explain that some problems are physical and some are social. Teacher then states that if the lid is stuck, “I have a physical problem. I can struggle and I can think of a new way to try. Can you think of some other ways I could try?”. Solicit many reasonable or wild answers. Teacher then changes the situation to a social one (open jar). Teacher tells the children that the jar is open, but there is a new problem. The jar is not mine. It belongs to my mother and she is coming in right now. Ask the children if I have a physical problem or a social problem. Social problems are situations that happen between people that require us to change our feelings or thinking. It can feel good or upsetting. Let the role play start as children think about a good feeling that could be a result of having Mom’s pickle jar. If the Mom says, “Oh, you opened that jar for me, how nice of you”, that would be a very good feeling. If the Mom says, “Oh, you took that away without asking me”, you might feel scared or sad.
- ____Teacher can encourage children to talk about various conflicts they can think of. These can also be categorized as physical or social and good or not good feelings.
- 4. Teacher can review social conflicts and physical conflicts by listing events that have been occurring in the classroom. For example, the teacher might note a stuck door, folding papers into a backpack, opening milk cartons and breaking a pencil as daily events that are conflicts or problems. The teacher might note who helped a friend solve a physical conflict. Then discuss a situation with no objects in it, just two people. Puppets are a useful tool to model these two people. One person bothers the other person. Have children think of things like name-calling, giving a put-down, making a face or poking the other person. Talk about feelings and then try to think of positive conflicts or social events that surprise people. A birthday party, a compliment, and a request to “be a friend” are situations that often feel good. “But what it you feel uncomfortable with a compliments or what if you don’t like the person who wants to be your friend”, asks the teacher.
- 5. Students can think of social and physical conflicts that occur at school, home and in their community.
|Purpose:||To examine and illustrate how laws help people and to help children understand that sometimes rules control us in ways we don’t like.|
- 1. Teacher can review lists of conflicts from Lesson 1 and ask students to think if there could be a rule about the pickle jar, broken pencils and name-calling. Teacher can explain that rules gives us order, safety and remind us to be kind. The pickle jar situation reminds us that we need to ask permission to have Mom’s jar because it isn’t kind to take. The broken pencil needs a rule. Ask if, “anyone can think of a rule for a broken pencil?”. Children might go to the teacher’s container of spare pencils, they might sharpen their pencil, or they might get a new one from a friend. If someone calls a child a name, the teacher might have a rule about it. Ask the children if they can think of a rule that would stop name-calling. This tends to focus the children on punitive rules which are not effective because they give lots of attention to the child who did not follow the rule. Explain that the class is going to learn about solving difficult conflicts that make us angry. Leave this conflict as “unsolved” so that they will experience the concept that not all conflicts have solutions.
- 2. Teacher will bring small cars and a stop sign to the group. Teacher states that we will be learning about community rules which are also called laws. Have students take a few cars onto the floor and see if they can get around a small area in half a minute. We all need rules on the road because we might what? Accept all reasonable responses. Large groups of people in the community make many laws. Laws are stronger than rules and people get a punishment if they don’t follow the rules. Ask the children to think of some laws that are broken that require police assistance. Drugs, violence, fights, stealing, and car crashes might be generated. Leave this conflict as unsolved. “Because so many people are puzzled by these conflicts, we need children to think of some ways to help our community”, states the teacher. We’ll “think awhile. ”
- 3. Students should have experienced several discussion on types of families, roles in a family and jobs that people do in a family. Review these facts and ask for a list of dinner requests. Explain that we are going to role-play a family making dinner. It will require some props and careful directing to get small groups organized for simultaneous or sequenced practice sessions. Students will often need several family role-play situations to understand that all members of a family try to get along. There is not a perfectly organized rule system or blame system that works. At a wrap session or a performance of the meal times actors, it is important that the teacher establish that conflicts are a normal part of growing up in any family system.
- 4. The teacher might also include another problem for the children to consider. What if this family had so little food that they would have one cracker each for dinner? Should a person steal? If caught stealing, should this person get the same punishment as a drug dealer?A mock trial on this issue would provide a vivid lesson on how laws can be confusing, controlling and some students might want to challenge our “mean” system of laws and rules.
- 5. Students practice rules of conversations and questioning. We should greet, look at the person’s face and ask questions that are appropriate. Pairs can practice on each other and switch after five minutes.
|Purpose:||To show the students how difficult it is to stop family violence. To help them understand what unequal means.|
- 1. Discussion. Ask for any definition of privacy and discuss it. What does it mean to be equal? Recall that tie scores mean that the numbers are the same. We use an equal sign in math to show how objects can be taken apart and put back the same way. Recall comparing heights and weights in previous math lessons or discuss these comparisons in the room using teacher as not equal or not the same.
- 2. Activity: (Choose one or more depending on grade level)
- ____a. Use a play house with little people and some small cars to show the difference between out “in public” and in the “privacy” of a person’s home. If the family is out in the car and the driver goes through a red light, an “officer of the law” can stop the driver. A ticket can be given that is a punishment for breaking the rules of the state. If you don’t pay it, the state or community can take away your driver’s license. Show children your license and note that the word Connecticut on it represents the state’s power to make laws on driving.
- ____b. Use the play house to show how people live behind doors that are closed. Review the meaning of what a family is and what dependability or responsibility means, for example, in “Project Charlie”, Lesson13. Have children discuss one thing that the family might be doing, i. e. washing dishes, sleeping, etc. Then explain that somewhere there is a family where one person fights and hits others to get rid of anger. Can the state see in to stop the fighting? Can the people who depend on this person for food and money walk away from their house?If the family uses violence to cause serious injury or control with constant scary power, it is called family violence.
- ____c. Use a balance to demonstrate that all of us have some power in the family. If one person has the power to make money, get food, and if he is stronger, this can allow the balance to be very unequal. Use small 1 inch blocks to weigh in the various functions like help with dishes, get food, pay the bills, find housing, buy clothes. Compare children to adults to discuss children’s dependency. Then compare fathers and mothers as they supply answers to “who provides what” on various block labels. Explain that even when the blocks are equal, the man is often physically bigger and able to lose control with his family. It is a scary thing when once in a while we hear about any person who gets so angry that they lose control and hurt others. It is a sad fact that people who love us can be violent. This is called family violence. It is hard for the state to see inside a family, so ask the children for some ways to help this angry family. For example, they could go visit Grandma’s house before the anger got out of control. The father could take a walk or talk to a friend when his “anger thermometer” was hot.
- ____d. Read “Alexander and The Terrible NO Good Day” to show that all kids have some bad days. (Viorst 1972).
- ____e. Read a book called “Sometimes Mama and Papa Fight”, (Sharmat, 1980).
- ____f. Teachers might expand their knowledge and increase their comfort level by reading, “Family Violence: How to recognize it and survive it”(Rench 1992).
- ____g. “Project Charlie” Lessons 15-17. These deal with anger.
|Purpose:||Children will demonstrate appropriate ways of handling anger in social situations through a five step plan.|
- 1. Teacher will introduce by reading a book called, “I was so Mad”, (Simon 1974). While reading the book, ask the children if the settings make them mad, i. e. going to bed when it is still light out. The boy in the book is a good example of step one and two in the problem solving process. He is able to stop himself from angry actions and he can identify why he is upset.
- 2. Teacher will post five steps of conflict resolution on a bulletin board or poster. Teacher will explain that this plan works for physical and social conflicts. It can be referred to as “The Plan”. The steps of many plans are fairly consistent but I prefer the labels used to form an acronym, SIGEP (Crary, 1984).
- ____a. Stop
- b. Identify
- c. Generate
- d. Evaluate
- e. Plan
- 3. Step 1: Learning to stop and stay calm requires the child to catch themselves before their anger “thermometer” goes to red hot. They can generate a list on chart paper and copy it down (or illustrate) so that parents can share in their learning. Some ideas include counting to ten, taking three deep breaths, walk away for a minute, let anger drain out your feet, or talk to somebody. If you feel like you must hit, hit a pillow or make your hands shake hands together with as queeze.
- 4. Step 2: Identify the Problem. Tell children to describe what is happening in a long, clear sentence. It helps to include their feelings and what they need.
- 5. Step 3: Generate ideas is a creative plan that requires a lot of persistence and patience. Read the book called, “Being Bullied”, (Berry, 1984), which details six good solutions to being bullied. These include staying away from the bully, being kind, ignoring, confronting, walking away, and seeking help from a grown-up. The children enjoy thinking up wild and crazy solutions of their own, but they can’t express violent solutions.
- 6. Step 4: Evaluation. The teacher will need to use a balance scale with small objects or a set of building blocks to demonstrate the cause and effect action of various ideas that were generated. Some plans cost or weigh a lot because each block can represent time, effort, money or chance of success. The children will have a concrete model of how options are weighed in our minds. The teacher should encourage his or her students to talk out loud as they choose a plan that is best for now. Remind them that many plans need to be tried sometimes.
- 7. Step 5: The Plan. The students will often walk away without completing the steps of their plan. Often, that is because they feel better or they got distracted. Occasionally, they have a plan that fails and they fail to persist in making a new plan. The teacher can read the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk” to illustrate clearly Jack’s many plans to get more things away from the giant. This fairy tale also shows that Jack’s Mother did not resolve her anger toward Jack in a good way. Discuss with the children that parents may have a different system to resolve conflicts or may be unable to stay calm.
- 8. Helping parents to resolve conflicts: See resource list.
- 9. Helping the Principal resolve conflicts. The principal will visit with some problems. The children will practice the five step plan to help solve the problems.
Whyte, Martin King, Is America well Served by its Family System, Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 8, No. 4, Dec. 1987.
Paley, Vivian Gussin. You Cant Say You Cant Play, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma. , 1992. An account of an inclusion experiment in a kindergarten that includes story telling and interviews with other grade school students on rejection issues as the basis for conflict and low self-esteem.
Phalen, Thomas W. , 1-2-3 Magic, A parent-training video and book that explains proper techniques of time-out with clear and simple directions. Child Management, Inc. 800 Roosevelt Rd. , Glen Ellyn, IL. 60137. Costs about $48. 00.
Peacemaking Skills for Little Kids, A complete kit with puppet, cassette, posters, activities, and guide for kids preschool to grade 2. Available through Childswork/Childsplay for about $60. 00.
Project Charlie: Chemical Abuse Resolution Lies in Education, Storefront Youth Action, 4570 W. 77th St. , Edina, MN. , 1987.
Stop, Relax and Think: A game to Help Impulsive Children, A critical foundation skill for problem-solving is developed in a game format. For ages 6-12, available from Childswork/Childsplay for about$40. 00.
Childswork/Childsplay Catalog: Center for Applied Psychology, Inc. P. O. 61586, King of Prussia, PA. This catalog is devoted to the mental health needs of children and their families. For a catalog or to order, call 1-800-962-1141.
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