Conflict Resolution and History: The War with Mexico as a Case Study

By Gardner, Arlene L.; Chambers, John W. | Social Education, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Conflict Resolution and History: The War with Mexico as a Case Study


Gardner, Arlene L., Chambers, John W., Social Education


What do history and fighting with your brother or sister have in common? Conflict. Looking at the history of national interactions over the centuries, we see a recurrence of conflicts frequently leading to wars that cost dearly in terms of lives, property, the environment, and the well-being of society. Although conflicts are an unavoidable part of personal and national life, we can learn how to deal with them constructively and non-violently.

The Conflict Resolution in History project provides students in grades 5-12 with practical skills for resolving conflicts in their daily lives. In addition, it helps students understand the complexity of historical events and appreciate that history is not always an inevitable flow of events but rather a series of choices made by individuals and groups. The project promotes its work through teacher institutes and the development of lesson plans and related materials.(1) Social studies teachers learn to integrate conflict resolution skills and American history in the same lesson.

Teacher Institutes

To date, more than two hundred teachers from schools in eight states have participated in intensive twenty- to twenty-five-hour teacher institutes, at which teachers practice and analyze techniques for dealing with conflicts and then apply their skills to historical conflicts. We teach conflict resolution skills, role-playing techniques, and historical content to teachers in the same way that teachers would teach the skills in the classroom. They learn about negotiations, which involve communications between two or more disputants for the purpose of reaching a resolution to a conflict, and mediation, which involve communications between two or more disputants to resolve a conflict with the help of a mediator, a disinterested third party. The teachers apply these skills first to everyday conflicts and then to specific conflicts in American history. They also discuss how to teach, analyze, and assess these strategies in the context of a history lesson for students in a middle or high school classroom.

What happens in the classroom? To begin, teachers guide the students through a discussion of the typical sources of and responses to conflict. Next, they introduce the students to principled or interest-based negotiations. The students practice negotiation and mediation skills to address hypothetical everyday conflicts. Then they apply these skills to specific conflicts in American history. The teacher assigns students to play the roles of specific historical figures or to be observers. The class reviews the relevant historical period--the events, people, issues, and other factors that led to the conflict. The teacher then helps the students define the real interests of the individuals or groups, sometimes in contrast to their stated positions.

Now the class is ready to conduct a mock negotiation, mediation, legislative lobbying and debate, or another interactive historical role-playing activity. In most cases, several groups of students try to resolve the same historical conflict simultaneously, and they are likely to come up with a variety of solutions. The observers in each group take notes on the process and results of the negotiation or mediation. After the activity, the teacher, with the help of the observers, discusses what happened in each group and why, focusing on the process, the use of conflict resolution skills, and the degree of historical accuracy. The class reviews what actually happened in history and compares the results with the role-playing activity. This debriefing enables students to understand more fully the historical conflict and the limitations that circumscribed it, as well as to appreciate the value and difficulties of using conflict resolution techniques.

The following sample lesson examines the war between the United States and Mexico in 1846 as a case study for conflict resolution.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of the lesson, students should be able to

* Appreciate the value of conflict resolution skills;

* Apply conflict resolution skills to a historical conflict;

* Analyze the conflicting interests that led to war between Mexico and the United States in 1846;

* Understand the interplay of individual decisions and historical events in shaping history; and

* Appreciate the influence of pride--both in oneself and in one's country--as a force in personal and historical conflicts. …

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