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Conflict Resolution Education and Peace Education

Conflict resolution education programs focus on developing critical skills and abilities for a person to deal constructively with conflict. In most cases these programs occur in schools, but they may also be used in after-school programs, community centers, church groups, etc.

What do children learn in conflict resolution education? These programs give children an understanding of the nature of conflict-what conflict is and how it develops as well as what one can do to manage it. Children learn to appreciate that conflict exists whenever there is a disagreement about goals and/or methods to achieve those goals; and as a result, conflict is natural, necessary, and important. Children learn to understand the dynamics of power and influence that operate in all conflict situations. Furthermore, they become aware of the role of culture in how we see and respond to conflict.

An awareness of the nature of conflict helps children appreciate the variety of ways that people can manage or respond to conflict-another common program component. By learning a range of conflict styles (such as competing, collaborating, accommodating, avoiding, and compromising), children can consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. As effective conflict managers know, no approach to conflict management works all the time; the key is to know which approach is best for the situation at hand. However, conflict resolution education emphasizes that a violent response to conflict is almost never an appropriate response.

An extremely important program component involves providing children with social and emotional skills to prevent conflict and reinforce their use of prosocial strategies in conflict. Some of the skills that conflict resolution education helps develop include effective listening, perspective taking, emotional awareness, and emotional control. Of these, perhaps the most important is perspective taking. When children learn to take the perspective of another, they are increasing their ability to empathize with the other person. The more we empathize with someone, the less we are likely to want to hurt them.

The Peace Education Working Group at UNICEF defines peace education as "the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values needed to bring about behavior changes that will enable children, youth, and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, inter-group, national, or international level" (UNICEF 2004) Gavriel Salomon states that peace education usually includes such topics as "antiracism, conflict resolution, multiculturalism, cross-cultural training, and the cultivation of a generally peaceful outlook" (Salomon 2002: 7). Using the UNICEF definition and Salomon's conclusion, we may consider peace education the larger effort and conflict resolution education as one of the key areas within peace education.

Marc Sommers (2003) suggests that peace education is best understood in terms of the specific skills, attitudes, and knowledge imparted. Peace education programs help people develop communication skills of active listening and assertive speech; problem-solving skills of brainstorming or consensus building; and orientation skills of cultural awareness and empathy. Furthermore, peace education builds positive attitudes about justice, respect, and democracy, though respect for democracy may be expressed indirectly through respect for individual choice. Peace education emphasizes understanding the dynamics of social conflict, warfare, and conflict resolution and the dynamics of peace. In particular, participants in peace education are introduced to the distinctions of negative and positive peace. Participants may learn about different ways of handling conflict, such as negotiation, mediation, or facilitation.

A quick perusal of the definition, characteristics, and content of conflict resolution education and peace education programs suggests that both areas overlap considerably. They basic motivations are similar, the goals for programs are similar, and the key skills and content are similar. Sommers (2001) notes that similarities are also shared between peace education and many kinds of "values education programs," such as human rights education, antibias training, and tolerance education. These all share a commitment to enhancing the quality of life by emphasizing the dignity of life. In all three examples, violence is rejected and participants are encouraged to find alternative ways of handling problems.