TEACH CHILDREN RESPECT, NOT RAGE
By Kimberlee K. Kovach, Chair of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution,
and Jack Hanna, Director of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution
We are a busy nation. We scurry around with our over-committed schedules, and too
often dispense with civility in our an attempt to save time. We cut one another off in traffic. We
bump into one another on the street. We pursue our personal and business agendas without the
slightest regard for other people. Our children see that we care little for our fellow Americans.
Similarly, our politicians play scorched earth games with one another and generally
demonstrate a supreme disregard for civil or reasoned discourse. There is no limit to what our
leaders will say about one another. And guess what -- there are children listening and watching!
The average child entering fifth grade has seen hundreds of thousands of acts of violence
on television. This barrage of violence continues throughout their school years, and many
psychologists believe that it desensitizes youth to witnessing violence.
When this omnipresent violence is coupled with the demonstrated incivility among
adults and the easy availability of guns in our nation, tragedy can result. The tragic incident in
the Arkansas schoolyard provides us an excellent opportunity to reflect on what we can do, as a
society, to lower the decibel level and encourage constructive discourse and problem solving.
We must move toward a more civil society. We need to turn down the volume on our
voices, remove the hate from our speech, and begin to teach a radical concept to our children --
that each human being has value, and that such value deserves respect.
Peer mediation programs in schools can help. They teach students how to listen to one
another, how to solve conflict without violence, how to manage anger, communication skills,
self respect, trust, and how to express feelings in a constructive manner. The American Bar
Association is doing its small share to promote peer mediation -- volunteer lawyers in 21 cities
are working to bring peer mediation to schools that cannot afford to hire a private organization
to implement a program, or that do not have volunteer programs available in their communities.
Skills learned through peer mediation can be used not only in the schools, but in the students'
neighborhoods and throughout their lives.
Peer mediation programs alone won't end school violence. But they can go a long way
toward returning us to the more respectful approach to human interaction we seem to have lost.
Until we increase the positives in the sum of influences on our children, we will be left with only
the negatives -- lack of civility in everyday interaction, media violence, gutter politics, and the
ready availability of guns. The ABA encourages community leaders to start mediation programs
in their schools, and to make training in conflict resolution available to parents.