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Teaching Conflict Resolution
to Young Students

By Farnosh Family
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
(Based on accomplishments by Cathy Bullock and her
teaching assistants at A:Shiwi Elementary School
in Zuni, New Mexico)

[ Cathy Bullock, Juanitia Edaakie, and Pam Tsadiasi ]
Cathy Bullock, Juanita Edaakie, and Pam Tsadiasi

Over the course of the past three years of my participation in the Holocaust/Genocide Project, I have corresponded with childreen and teachers at A:Shiwi Elementary School on the Zuni reservation in New Mexico, USA. We have discussed topics such as prejudice, discrimination, the Holocaust (in a manner appropriate for six to nine year olds), and love. Although these are "heavy" topics for little kids, the children are remarkably perceptive and have shown their understanding of these topics. This year's topic, introduced at A:Shiwi by teacher Cathy Bullock, was conflict resolution.

Conflict Resolution became a new, special topic in the iearn.hgp newsgroup on August 26, 1997. To explain the topic, teacher Cathy Bullock wrote, "The topic of the Holocaust or of genocides throught the world is usually one that is to traumatic for young children to comprehend or digest. Some aspects of these events can be shared in a very gentle manner; most teachers, however, are afraid to take this risk. Many of us find that, rather than teach the history of atrocities, we can help children learn to prevent them through a focus on developing tolerance and through finding caring, humane methods of resolving conflict.

The topic Resolving Conflict within the Holocaust/Genocide Project is designed primarily for young children and for teachers of young children to share, not only what they are learning about how to resolve conflict, but also the significance of this knowledge for preserving world peace and for understanding and valuing diversity."

Before long, students in Argentina and Australia responded to this new topic and participated in the project. As Anne Holder described to Cathy, "I have a Grade 5 class at Mount Dandenong Primary School in Victoria, Australia. We study and role-play the conflict resolution process. The children are currently working in groups to develop an 'anti-bullying campaign' which includes poetry, songs, posters, and making a video. We would love to join this project with you." From Argentina, secondary students of Anusia Kaczorkiewicz, also participated.

Students at A:Shiwi Elementary School began the project by discussing the definition of the word "conflict." As Cathy described, "Only one boy, who sees the school counselor, knew what the word meant. We talked about it meaning a disagreement among peoples. We then talked about how conflict could involve physical violence or the use of words. Some confict is very negative, and other conflict can be quite constructive. Each child then described a conflict in which he or she had been involved. Usually the children said that they never had conflicts with best friends. When asked, however, if they had conflicts with siblings, the response was unanimously affirmative." The children then listed some examples of conflicts.

Conflicts Among Children

Part of the way through this project, Cathy learned that there was a six-year-old boy in her class who was being bullied by five other boys. The children who were bullying have a different skin color from the boy they were bullying. The little boy was too afraid to gou out and play with the other children because of the bullies.

When asked what they did about it, Cathy replied, "We spend two hour-long sessions on the topic with the entire class. All of the children became aware that an incidence of bullying occurred based on skin color, although no mention was made of the names of the boys who were involved in the bullying. The first day we discussed how it must have felt to be the victim who was 'different.' Then we listed what we felt were bullying behaviors. (I did not want us to describe what a 'bully' is, since it implies that behavior is internal, a part of the child, who he or she is, an unchangeable characteristic. Instead of describing a bully, we focused on describing bullying behavior.) Here is what the children said."

Bullying behavior is:

The outcome of this work is that the little boy is now happily playing outside during recess, and the others are quite contrite about their actions.

[ 'Please choose the flag of love.'

Anne Holder's class was also discussing bullying and what victims can do about it. Anne went on to say that she things, "it is important to emphasize that if other children are standing around doing nothing to support the victim, this is just as bad as bullying. We talked about apathy." The class went on to read Guardian Angel, by June Loves, which is about ways to avoid being bullied.

Students at the Zuni school have also read books dealing with this issue, such as Let's Be Enemies, by Janice May Udry, and Three Wishes by Lucile Clifton. Cathy also used Teaching Conflict Resolution Through Children's Literature, by William J. Dreidler.

Two books that sparked a major discussion were Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting, and, Golem (winner of the 1997 Caldecott Medal), by David Wisniewski. Smoky Night is about the Los Angeles riot and the general mistrust of people who are different. The children quickly saw the connection between the two books. Their discussion led to how children's literature tends to end happily, much unlike Golem. A student in the class then commented that "Jewish literature and stories ended 'naturally,' the way nature would require."

Through these past years, Cathy and the children at A:Shiwi Elementary School in Zuni, New Mexico, have sent us pictures of their class, and we have been able to "see" their work, thanks to Cathy, Juanita Edaakie, Pam Tsadiasi, and Christopher Lewis. We have "grown up" with our young friends at Zuni and shared many symbols of our cultures and backgrounds.

They also shared with us two other books and stories they studied. Cathy explains where that took them, in the following e-mail message:

We just finished reading a short biography to the children, Martin Luther King Day, by Linda Lowery. The book ends saying, "He dreamed of love, peace, and justice. He dreamed that we can all work together, no matter what color our skin is. He worked hard for his dream. Now, it is our turn." I asked, "I wonder what that last sentence might mean: 'Now, it is our turn'?

I received two responses right away, both of which I felt summarized everything we have been emphasizing in our class this year.

Michael Bowannie said, "We can be together with other different people." Tami Dewa said, "We can solve problems in peaceful ways."

After reading The Story of Ruby Bridges, we asked the children to watch the TV movie, Ruby Ridges, with their families. One of the things that really impressed the children was Ruby's personal strength of spirit as she walked past throngs of adults hurling insulting remarks at her. One of the insults was "Two, four, six, eight -- we don't want to integrate."

Christopher, my other teaching partner, also watched the film at home with his five-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. Later, while driving in the car, he overheard his two children playing in the back seat. They were changing, "Two, four, six, eight -- we don't need to hate." It is interesting how they completely transposed, entirely on their own, the message jingle."

After the wonderful projects and the teaching of Cathy Bullock and her teaching assistants, I was not at all surprised that the children were able to immediately understand the ending of the book, Martin Luther King Day. For that matter, I would not be surprised if all of her children grew up to be peaceful and nonprejudiced people, thanks to her with "conflict resolution: and her ongoing projects on human rights.

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