The Journal Times article of May 23rd, entitled Practicing peace, described the efforts to teach conflict resolution to a Fine Arts Stephen Bull Elementary School fourth-grade class. Children learned "to act as mediators-defusing conflicts and avoiding "fouls," language that only escalates tensions. It also advises students on how to better communicate with classmates to avoid conflict in the first place." The students also learned about peacemakers like Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and "local peacemaker Vel Phillps, who became the first women and African-American elected to the Milwaukee City Council. She fought for a fair housing ordinance in the city."
So far so good. Nothing at all wrong with teaching children conflict avoidance and conflict resolution skills. These skills should come in handy in resolving conflicts with people who are equally committed to resolving conflicts. But what happens when an aggressor has no interest in resolving conflicts?
Just yesterday my son told me that several older kids at his school stopped him as he attempted to ride his bike home from school. The conflict, in this case, was that a group of bullies wanted a bike that did not belong to them. As an aside, I don't suspect that they were actually going to take the bike, but they were deriving some pleasure from intimidating a younger child. Would conflict resolution techniques have worked here, as an older youth made a mild effort to seperate my son from his bike? Would sharing the bike be a fair resolution? The answers are no and no, in my view. My son had the correct instincts when he kicked the student who tried to stop him. Sometimes it is necessary to take a stand against evil.
I relay the story about my son because he understands intuitively a lesson that apparently will not be taught by the "Practicing Peace" instructors. And that lesson is that there are people in this world who are not interested in peace. They are interested in achieving certain objectives. Whether those objectives are stealing a bike or obliterating whole nations, the important lesson is that THERE IS EVIL in this world, and that there are occasions where fair minded conflict resolution is an inadequate response to evil. Evil, in all its forms, must be confronted by good people.
My concern is that, at this time in our history, as we are confronted by an ideology of hatred, we are ommitting from our curriculum any discussion of evil, and what to do about it. Instead, it appears that our students are being misled into believing that all conflict can be resolved peacefully. As we continue to face a dangerous enemy that wants us dead, it is dangerous to teach such nonsense to our children.
And by the way, I am proud of my son, who rightfully retains possession of his bike, and his dignity.