Is the American society lacking effective social controls? This unit addresses these questions and several more before outlining a unit to teach conflict resolution skills to young children. Historically, these skills are established in a society’s culture, law and social institutions. The children’s moral and social development was chiefly the job of the family. But today we have a growing segment of families that are in destructive or dysfunctional patterns. A recent Yale study found a strong generational link for problem behaviors. Eighty percent of chronically troubled youngsters end up as adults with high rates of incarceration, failed marriages, alcoholism, unemployment and other psychiatric disorders. This study and dozens like it have identified the same major risk factors. These include family violence, depression in the mother, a parent with a criminal background and learning disabilities (Rierden, 1994). Dr. Kazdin, one of the study’s authors, noted that treatments like medication and counseling were far more effective when parents were taught discipline and methods to help their children practice social skills (Rierden, 1994). It would certainly be ideal if all parents would find intensive parent training for conflict resolution but the schools are the next best hope for instilling a peaceful conflict resolution style.
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?”