On the surface, Primary School 198 here is no different from
many other inner-city schools: It is beset by chronic violence that
shows few signs of abating.
But while many schools are installing more metal detectors or
getting tougher with young criminals, P.S. 198 is taking innovative
steps to teach students how to counter school violence.
One afternoon late last year, for example, fifth-grader Mitchell
Quito was in the school's cafeteria when a fight broke out between
two of his friends. Instead of watching the boys exchange punches
or waiting for a teacher, he offered to help.
"I took them into the gym," he recalls. "I asked them what
happened and then I asked them how they felt." After several
minutes of talking, Mitchell explains, the two boys calmed down and
apologized to each other. "They didn't fight anymore, and they
became friends," he says.
Mitchell was no ordinary student offering to help. He has been
trained as a mediator as part of the curriculum designed by the New
York-based Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP).
Established in 1985 by Educators for Social Responsibility
Metropolitan (N.Y.) Area and the New York City Board of Education,
RCCP is a school-based program in conflict resolution and
intergroup relations. It serves more than 150,000 children in 325
schools from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Anchorage, Alaska.
Modern-day conflict resolution traces its roots to the 1920s,
when educators sought to improve relations between labor groups and
management, according to Linda Lantieri, cofounder and national
director of RCCP. It enjoyed a renaissance in the 1980s, when
numerous books that offered step-by-step tips on how to negotiate
conflicts at work and at home hit the bestseller lists.
Today, many schools are turning to it as yet another way to
tackle the conflict and violence among youths that has crept into
According to FBI estimates, for instance, juvenile arrest rates
for violent crimes more than tripled between 1965 and 1990. In a
study released earlier this year by James Fox, dean of the College
of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston, murders
by teens between the ages of 14 and 17 increased 172 percent from
1985 to 1994.
The problem, of course, is not limited to urban areas. "Violence
is not just an inner-city problem," says Ms. Lantieri. "Violence is
America's problem. And programs like RCCP are not only about
stopping the violence. They're about increasing the climate of
Conflict-resolution programs are by no means limited to tough
city schools. Indeed, the second school system where RCCP was
established is in Anchorage, Alaska. Lantieri estimates that there
are thousands of organizations implementing conflict resolution
programs in schools and communities throughout the US.
And there are a variety of approaches. In Detroit, Alicia Renee
Farris runs a conflict resolution organization called the Youth
Nonviolence Training Program (YNTP). Created in 1992, it is
community-based and springs from the teachings of Martin Luther
King Jr. "Our basic philosophy is to establish a cadre of
nonviolent leaders," says Ms. Farris. "And everything is built
around the nonviolent social activism of Dr. King."
YNTP has a two-pronged approach. …