Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Conflict in Schools - Fertile Ground for Moral Growth

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Conflict in Schools - Fertile Ground for Moral Growth

Article excerpt

The instinct to avoid conflict, which can be prevalent in schools, may derail the very experience that offers the greatest potential for learning, warns a study by the Friends Council on Education. Instead, educators must emphasize and engage students in responses to conflict that are nonviolent and creative and that promote the cause of peace.

IN A nationwide poll reported in Newsweek after the Littleton (Colorado) tragedy, 63% of Americans said it was very or somewhat likely that a shooting incident could occur at their local schools. In the wake of the dramatic incidents of school violence in recent years, countless conversations in settings from talk shows to school board meetings have focused on explanations and causes. The discussants note the many seeds from which violence grows in our complex society and find diverse targets for blame, such as media violence, poverty, racism, and technology-driven isolationism. The myriad post-trauma conversations have also focused on tangible measures to prevent violence in schools, such as police protection, metal detectors, hall monitors, and other security precautions. However, if violence is going to be reduced in our schools and our society, the conversations must begin to address what can be done to promote moral growth and social responsibility in children, in adolescents, in adults, and in our school communities.

What Is Moral Growth?

Recently, the Friends Council on Education (FCE) completed a three-year study on the moral growth of adolescents.1 The study was propelled by the idea that families who send their children to Friends schools assume that a moral education is at the core of these schools; however, little has been done in Friends schools, or any other private or public schools, to study or quantify how moral education is accomplished. The astounding conclusion of the FCE study was that conflict is the cruci- ble from which individual moral growth emerges; conflict is, in fact, the primary locus for moral growth in adolescents. The most important finding came from an observation that, in American Friends high schools, individual attachment to community was problematic and conflictual for students, reflecting a developmental theme of adolescence and a norm in many public schools in our country. In the Friends schools, where there was a commitment to listening, respecting, and responding to a broad range of individual voices, conflicts inevitably arose. Yet it was through the habit of respectful listening and dialogue that these school communities and the individual students and adults in them gained a capacity for responding creatively to conflicts and changing circumstances.

The study, conducted by a team of educators from a diverse array of Friends schools, was designed to examine how institutions contribute to the moral and ethical development of high school students. The project was funded by the Edward E. Ford Foundation and the Tyson Family Fund.

The study team gathered quantitative data, qualitative data, and action-oriented research data from 24 Friends high schools nationwide. The quantitative research methods included administering questionnaires and word checklists to the students, faculty, and board members at each of the schools. Qualitative data came from individual interviews with students, faculty members, and school administrators, as well as the personal observations of the researchers. In the action research component, school administrative teams reviewed their own data and gave feedback to the study team. All the data, as interpreted by the study team's practitioner researchers, contribute essential findings to the current dialogue among educators, policy makers, and parents regarding practices and processes that contribute to moral growth in adolescents.

In the study team's analysis of the results, moral growth occurred when individuals had experiences that revealed or strengthened intricate and essential connections with others. …

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