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Valley Perspective

Reading, Writing and Managing Conflicts

April 22, 2001|ARMINE G. HACOPIAN | Armine G. Hacopian is a cross-cultural communication consultant, an instructor in leadership and policy studies at Cal State Northridge, and a member of the Assn. of California School Administrators' School / State Emergency Response Team. She was recently elected to the Glendale Community College board

If we want to save lives and make our schools, streets and communities truly safe, school officials and parents must accept yet another major responsibility on top of everything else that we do: We must teach cross-cultural communication, conflict management, anger management and violence prevention in our schools as part of the regular curriculum.

Yes, schools must take on this additional responsibility and find time to increase instructional minutes to make it a vivid component of the educational process.

We currently teach similar topics as part of social studies course work and other subject areas at various grade levels.

What is proposed here is far more in-depth. It is a series of courses pre-K-12, with textbooks, teacher guides and grades assigned based on student performance. As educators and parents, we can no longer afford to teach our children effective communication, conflict management and anger prevention skills through osmosis.

Such a semester-long course should be a graduation requirement for every student in high school. During the middle school grades, a similar semester-long course should be part of the requirements for promotion to high school.

Such a course should also be taught in primary grades with developmentally appropriate course content. It should be a highly interactive class with simulations and role plays.

Students must have practice in managing and controlling their emotions when they are angry and upset. In addition, they can be taught ways of releasing their anger through various safe and beneficial activities.

A major component of this course should involve parents assisting in managing problems and conflicts with their children by attending a series of joint workshops. I have been to too many parent conferences where parents sincerely declare that they have no control over their 11-year-old son or 17-year-old daughter.

Most parents work hard to bring up their children with deep and appropriate family values--spirituality, responsibility, respect for people and property, how to distinguish right from wrong.

However, in diverse communities, there are different value systems, which lead to different communication and conflict management styles. A common set of communication and conflict management rules and norms are necessary so we can all live in some type of harmony.

There are many short-term programs in schools that focus on conflict resolutions instead of conflict management. Some may argue that the difference is only an interplay of words. However, the difference is much greater.

Conflicts stem from differences in belief systems. Beliefs originate from values embedded in our thoughts as we grow up. When we discuss resolving conflicts, emotions run high because people believe that they have to give up values that they were brought up with and they become defensive. Managing a conflict puts the focus on understanding differences and allows people to hold on to their values. When they don't feel threatened, people give up anger and are more open to constructive dialogue.

We keep talking about similarities and how we should emphasize them more. We consider ourselves very similar because we are all human beings; we breathe, we eat and drink, we sleep, we experience emotions and we learn a set of rules in order to live in some type of a setting with other human beings.

However, our similarities do not get students in fights leading to murders or motivate students to kill other students. So we must also examine and understand our differences: ethnic, socioeconomic, age, gender and otherwise. We must develop a deep appreciation of differences and not be threatened by them.

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Granted, we cannot help every student who walks in our school doors since we may encounter students who have been leading problematic lifestyles for many years.

It is unreasonable to think that any school system encountering a student in the 10th or 12th year of the problem can teach them differently and change their behavior in a few months or years. But requiring a vigorous class in communication from kindergarten to high school graduation is a major step in the right direction.

Admittedly, new students will arrive without having participated in these classes, but they will certainly benefit from interacting with everyone who has. Classes could be offered for new students in several languages, depending on the demographic needs of each school.

Imagine a cohesive community with diverse populations in which all members have gone through a school system where they have learned common communication, conflict management and violence prevention strategies. Call me an idealist, but this is what I long for, and I will work to make this dream a reality.

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