Academic journal article Childhood Education

Toward Peace: Using Literature to Aid Conflict Resolution

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Toward Peace: Using Literature to Aid Conflict Resolution

Article excerpt

Today's children are exposed to more violence than ever bee it on the news and in their neighborhoods and they are bombarded with violent television and toys. Many educators and others concerned with children's well-being believe that this abundance of violent entertainment reflects a culture that promotes aggression as a way to solve conflicts. Children often witness adults responding to problems by yelling, fighting and sometimes killing each other. It is no wonder, therefore, that children use similar methods when trying to resolve their own conflicts in the classroom and on the playground. By addressing this problem in the classroom and helping children peaceably settle their differences, we can help produce citizens who possess the skills necessary to maintain peace.

Most children are developmentally incapable of fully understanding the concepts of peace and conflict resolution. They are more likely to be focused on themselves and concrete objects. "They tend to see problems in the immediate moment and in physical terms . . . from their own point of view" (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1992, p. 7). Educators concerned about preserving world peace should help children acquire the interpersonal problem-solving skills they need to understand and respect each other. Teachers must attempt to ". . . create the atmosphere wherein the children can seek their own solutions . . . think in terms of empowering and enabling the children--giving them the tools they need to define and settle differences themselves" (Bernat, 1993, p. 37). These skills will help children make a difference in their own lives and, subsequently, in neighborhoods, countries and the world.

Children cannot develop positive conflict resolution skills until adults help them to define their problems. "Teachers can help children understand the problems that cause their conflicts in terms that make sense to them" (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1992). Children's literature is possibly one of the best resources available to teachers. Using literature, teachers can present conflicts in such a way that children are able to visualize the conflict, empathize with the characters and appreciate nonviolent resolutions to disputes. "Providing opportunities for children to read and listen to stories that portray different types of conflicts and possible resolutions helps them gain a broadened perspective and see the skills of peacemaking at work" (Schomberg, 1993, p. 9).

Skills and strategies for resolving problems peacefully can be learned through well organized and frequent exposure to quality literature and activities that promote peace (Lamme, Krogh & Yachmetz, 1992). No single prescribed method exists for presenting this type of literature. Cassie Oransky, a primary teacher in Gainesville, Florida, begins each school year with a unit on self-awareness in which she employs literature as a catalyst for problem-solving activities. First-grade teacher Marcia Walton implements a unit well into the school year titled "Peace Begins with Me" that encourages children to discover what they can do to make the world a better place. A teacher may start the year with a unit on peace and conflict resolution and throughout the year return to books with a peace theme.

Misunderstandings Between Friends or Family

Misunderstandings occur among children for various reasons. Because children's language skills are just emerging, their words may be misinterpreted and conflicts may arise. Also, childhood is an egocentric stage, partly defined by the inability to perceive situations from other perspectives. Children thus often have difficulty when attempting to understand their peers' actions. Literature enables children to view both sides of an issue through the eyes of story characters and illustrates creative problem-solving. At the same time, children remain removed from problems experienced by fictional characters. Such stories can help children deal with problems that might ordinarily be too personal to face. …

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