Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Conflict Resolution as Core Curriculum

When I tell people that I am an anarchist, that I imagine a world without hierarchy, they often dismiss me as naive. They cannot imagine how government would function without a dude in charge. They seem to find it even harder to imagine workplaces functioning without hierarchy.

If the skeptics provide any reasons, they generally point out conflicts that we currently resolve through coercion. Two people have a dispute at work, the boss makes a determination and coerces the parties to comply. Two countries have a dispute, and the more powerful country coerces the other.

The essential obstacle to a society based on cooperation is not that people have disputes, it is that we have so few tools to resolve our disputes peacefully. It isn't entirely our fault. And it isn't some malfunctioning human gene. It is that we have no training in dispute resolution or peaceful conflict management.

Amazingly, it is only in the last fifty years that conflict resolution has been brought into schools. And it is only since the 1980s that organizations like Educators for Social Responsibility have been promoting conflict resolution as core curriculum.

Despite the fact that conflict resolution has been shown to increase academic achievement and cooperation and to decrease violence and drop-out rates, too few schools have implemented conflict resolution into their programs.

Imagine if every school child (from kindergarden forward) had problem solving and peaceful conflict resolution as core curriculum. Imagine if it were given the importance of math and language. How much better equipped would we be for our relationships later in life?

It isn't that people are hopelessly unable to resolve conflicts without violence or coersion. It is that we are not learning the skills we need.

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