CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND THE SCHOOLS: Two stories from opposite coasts hit the news

Children and conflict resolution in the newsTwo stories involving schoolchildren and conflict resolution were reported on the Internet from opposite ends of the U.S. within the past 24 hours.

The first story, which appeared on the web site for the Christian Science Monitor, concerns a new Washington State law dubbed “The Family Preservation Act” which establishes a curriculum to teach public school children relationship skills, including conflict resolution.

With a little diligent digging, I was able to locate the text of the new law on the Washington legislature’s web site. (Scroll down that page and click on the words Bill As Passed Legislature for the statute in PDF format, or paste the following URL into your browser: http://www.leg.wa.gov/pub/billinfo/2005-06/Pdf/Bills/House Bills/1252-S.E.pdf.) The statute provides that the “model curriculum shall include, but is not limited to, instruction on developing conflict management skills, communication skills, domestic violence and dating violence, financial responsibility, and parenting responsibility.” The statute encourages, but doesn’t require, schools to implement the curriculum.

This legislation, apparently prompted by alarm over the rising divorce rate and the growing financial burden that divorce places upon state resources, generated some controversy prior to its approval by the legislature. At least one legislator expressed concern that such a curriculum would promote antagonism towards nontraditional families or single parents, a concern that I share.

(I myself am all for teaching kids conflict management skills, but I’m not convinced that it’s the job of our public schools to teach our children how to have “successful and fulfilling family relationships” as the statute claims. I figure that’s my job as a parent, thank you very much.)

The second story comes straight from Boston, my home town. The Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General has just released its report on Elements of a Successful Peer Mediation Program. This report provides a list of recommendations and questions to serve as guidelines for any school in the process of developing its own peer mediation program for its students.

The Attorney General’s Office has identified five elements vital for the success of peer mediation programs: appropriate staffing; quality training to adequately prepare mediators; appropriate mediators who truly are peers, reflect the diversity of the school, and can uphold confidentiality; support by the entire school system, including teachers and administrators; and ongoing consultation. This report also describes five phases necessary for the development of a successful peer mediation program: Developing a Vision for Peer Mediation; Information Gathering and Planning; Program Design; Program Implementation; and Program Management.

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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