Cross-Cultural Conflict Resolution in the Schools: Some Practical Intervention Strategies for Counselors

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  • JOURNAL OF COUNSELING & DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2004 VOLUME 82294

    It is clear that acts of violence and terror have now become pervasive in our culture. These are not just violent acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists, or even community gangs, but manifestations of verbal and physical abuse, bullying, extortion, and fights that takeplace inside the schools themselves. School violence contin-ues to be an area in which many experts agree that moremust be done to protect children and help them cope withthe effects (Capozzoli & McVey, 2000; Elliott, Hamburg, &Williams, 1998; Goldstein & Conoley, 1997; Hurford,Lindskog, & Mallett, 2000; Sandhu, 2001; Shafii & Shafii,2001). Many children are afraid to go into the restroom orout on the playground because of the level of violence inschool settings (Elliot et al., 1998). According to statisticspublished by the Center for Disease Control and Preven-tion (CDC), in 1993, 28% of shootings happened inside aschool building; 36% of violent events happened outdoorson school property; 35% happened off-campus; and, since1992, the total number of multiple-victim events has in-creased consistently (CDC, 1993). According to a reportfrom the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES;Heaviside, Rowand, & Williams, 1998), approximately 57%of public elementary and secondary schools reported one ormore incidents of violence during the 19961997 schoolyear. Finally, urban schools are more prone to violencethan are their suburban or rural counterparts (Flaherty,2001), but regardless of where violence occurs, its pres-ence adversely and significantly affects the amount of learn-ing taking place in a school environment (Sandhu, 2001).

    When the public thinks about violence in schools, ingeneral, high visibility cases such as the mass murders at Col-umbine come to mind. However, violence in schools can beconceptualized as any act of intimidation, threats, harassment,robbery, vandalism, physical assault, rape, sexual battery, ormurder that happens on school grounds or buses going toand from school or from a school sponsored event (Capozzoli

    & McVey, 2000; Flaherty, 2001; Office of Juvenile Justice andDelinquency Prevention, 1996). Kopka (1997) asserted thatracial epithets, White supremacy symbols, or a hard shove ina school hallway are also considered violent acts. Thetendency for school personnel to use all-encompassingdefinitions for violent acts means that parents and counse-lors can expect that children are much more likely to qualifyfor the label a victim of violence today (and in the verynear future) than they would have qualified for this desig-nation in the past. Furthermore, given the broadconceptualization of school violence, one might even ex-pect incidences of school violence to be underreported. Fewvictims of school violence have actually reported their vic-timization to the police, and less than half have reportedthe victimization to either the police or school officials(Elliott et al., 1998; R. S. Newman, Murray, & Lussier, 2001).

    VIOLENCE IS GROWING: POSSIBLE REASONS

    Even though change in defining what is and is not a violentact has inflated the number of violent acts, there is evi-dence that violence has increased, and there are a number ofexplanations to account for the increase. In fact, Ketti (2001)maintained that we have many more theories about vio-lence than data to support them. Although no definitivecausative factors can be directly linked to a specific inci-dence of violence, one explanation for violence has beenconceptualized by considering the complex interplay of bio-logical, psychological, and social factors (Ketti, 2001; Shafii& Shafii, 2001). Furthermore, the same authors who calledattention to the complex interplay of these three factors(i.e., Ketti, 2001; Shafii & Shafii, 2001) also believed that alack of conflict resolution training was a significant con-tributor to violence (Ketti, 2001; Shafii & Shafii, 2001).

    In addition to the lack of conflict resolution skill that hasreceived the greatest attention in the literature, there are

    Jesse A. Brinson, Department of Marriage, Family and Community Counseling, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Jeffrey A. Kottler, Department ofCounseling, California State University, Fullerton; Teresa A. Fisher, Department of Counseling, Adult and Health Education, Northern Illinois University.Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jesse A. Brinson, Department of Counseling, College of Urban Affairs, 4505 Maryland Pkwy,Las Vegas, NV 89154-3045 (e-mail: brinson@nevada.edu).

    Cross-Cultural Conflict Resolution in the Schools:Some Practical Intervention Strategies for Counselors

    Jesse A. Brinson, Jeffrey A. Kottler, and Teresa A. Fisher

    The authors present a context for understanding the increase in school violence as a function of poor conflict resolution skills.They provide counselors with selected cross-cultural approaches for conflict resolution and problem solving. They also discusshow the methods could be implemented in a school setting. A case study is used to demonstrate the approaches in action.

    2004 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved. pp. 294301

  • JOURNAL OF COUNSELING & DEVELOPMENT SUMMER 2004 VOLUME 82 295

    C r o s s - C u l t u r a l C o n f l i c t R e s o l u t i o n

    other contributors to violence that deserve attention. Thesocial contributors most frequently mentioned are the pro-liferation of gangs, violent images portrayed in the media(particularly television), and the growing use of violent videogames and Internet sites.

    Kaufman, Chen, and Choy (1999) cited data from the U.S.Departments of Justice and Education that reveal that thepresence of gangs in schools doubled from 1985 to 1995.Many of these gangs are involved in efforts to harass otherstudents, or, in some cases, engage in illicit activities thatmay or may not lead to violence. Several writers have pointedout that guns have become a constant companion of manyadolescent boys in middle school and high school (Durant,Krowchuk, & Kreiter, 1999; Ikeda, Gorwitz, & James, 1997;Malek, Chang, & Davis, 1998). Greenbaum (1997) cited datafrom the Department of Justice that every day in the UnitedStates, thousands of children carry some type of weapon toschool for protection. Even in those cases in which a childcarries a weapon to school to protect himself or herself, thisaction itself has increased the overall chance for some vio-lent act to occur.

    In reference to television and its potential impact onschool violence, a number of years ago, a 5-year study bythe American Psychological Association estimated that theaverage child has watched 100,000 acts of violence and 8,000murders from his or her living room (Huston et al., 1992).There should be little wonder about their predilection to-ward violence when they are bombarded, for example, withimages of good triumphing over evil, often in violent ways,and when relatively few versions of power are representedto them in the mass media and toy markets other than theidea of power over rather than power with others (Arnow, 2001).A growing number of prominent lawmakers, citizens, and pro-fessional groups like Action for Childrens Television (ACT),the National Council of Churches, the American MedicalAssociation, the National PTA, and the American Psycho-logical Association have become increasingly outspoken intheir criticism of violence on television (Jason, Hanaway, &Brackshaw, 1999). Finally, well-funded research studies onthe relationship between media-portrayed violence and anti-social behavior in children strongly indicate that television isone contributor to violent or aggressive behavior (AmericanPsychiatric Association, Board of Trustees, 1993). Datacollected up to this point suggest that it would be nave tobelieve that TV violence is not a contributing factorespeciallyif the children watching violent content are frustrated, angry,or initially prone to violence (Aronson, 2000).

    VIOLENCE AS AN ATTEMPT TO RESOLVE CONFLICT

    One theory to account for the reasons children resort toviolence as a way to solve problems or to meet their needsis that they lack adequate conflict resolution skills. Sociallearning theory tells us that children learn behavior by ob-serving and imitating those around them (Corey, 2001;Gardner & Resnick, 1996). It is clear that a significant num-ber of children come from families and environments that

    can be characterized as less than optimal for developingsocially appropriate problem-solving skills. When people athome, or in their community, appear frustrated or upset, chil-dren see these individuals use poor problem-solving strategies,such as a slap, a shove, screaming, abusive language, or even theuse of a weapon to threaten someone. In community-basedstudies of family violence (U.S. Department of Health andHuman Services, 1994), Native American children reportedseeing family members beaten by other family members atrates slightly higher than African American adolescents(26.6% and 25.2%, respectively) and close to 2 times higherthan the 13.1% reported by White adolescents. Hampton,Jenkins, and Gullotta (1996) reported the results of a sur-vey conducted with 168 children at a Baltimore clinic, 80%of whom were female. The data revealed that 72% knewsomeone who had committed murder and 24% had witnesseda murder. On average, each had been victimized 1.5 times bysome sort of violence, and each had witnessed five separateserious crimes. One out of 5 had had his or her life threat-ened, and 1 in 11 had been raped. Several writers have main-tained that living in an urban environment has become a warzone for some urban youth (Garbarino, Kostelny, & Dubrow,1991). Obviously, many children are raised in family systemsand urban environments that do not provide adequate supportfor healthy adolescent growth and development. Familiescharacterized by low levels of cohesion often demonstratehigher levels of conflict and hostilities, which can easily affecthealthy growth and development (Brinson, 1992; Henggeler,Melton, & Smith, 1992; Tolan & Lorion, 1988). In some ur-ban environments, particularly in low-income areas, one findsareas (or neighborhoods) that are gang infested and laden withan inordinate amount of violence.

    It is not surprising that many children learn to resolvetheir own problems through similar violent strategies. Imi-tating the behavior of others, many children receive posi-tive reinforcement from their peers when they deal withinterpersonal conflict in a punitive fashion. Given the typeof background many children experience, some of them willresort to violence when their frustration tolerances havebeen exceeded (Shafii & Shafii, 2001) and when they lackthe maturity to understand the total consequences of theiractions (Capozzoli & McVey, 2000). Behaviors associatedwith both victimization and exposure to violence may con-tribute to the perpetuation of violence (Garbarino, 1995).

    In the case of minority youth who feel marginalized, theimpact of these factors makes them particularly vulnerableto academic failure, delinquency, and violent activity. Ra-cial minority youth, particularly African Americans, His-panics, and Native Americans, generally represent individu-als with families in the lowest socioeconomic level and livein lower income communities that are more prone to thenegative social ills of society. More affluent families are gen-erally made up of parents with higher levels of educationand have more access to resources for influencing appropri-ate development of children. Simply stated, a negative out-come is more likely when a lack of economic and familyresources is coupled with living in an economically oppressed

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    B r i n s o n , K o t t l e r, a n d F i s h e r

    environment. For these youth, the interaction effect of thesefactors can be overwhelming and frequently leads to atti-tudes and behaviors that are self-destructive. The potentialfor gang violence and other pathological behaviors will natu-rally occur for many of these youth.

    Despite the aforementioned risk factors, not all minorityyouth become victims of violence or commit violent acts.Nonetheless, it is important that promising strategies be imple-mented to prevent minority youth from becoming victims ofgang culture and violence. It is important for educators to beaware of key strategies that they can use to deliver successfulconflict resolution techniques as prevention and interven-tion aids. It is particularly important that methods and pro-cedures that are culturally based be considered in responseto conflictual situations. Such cross-cultural conflict reso-lution strategies offer a good start for such an effort. For themost part, these strategies cost little money to implementand have been shown to be effective for teaching individu-als appropriate methods of resolving conflict.

    CONFLICT RESOLUTION STRATEGIES

    There is increasing interest in creating and improving con-flict resolution approaches in public schools in the UnitedStates (Bodine, Crawford, & Schrumph, 1994; Brinson &Fisher, 1999; Girard & Koch, 1996; LeBoeuf & Delany-Shabazz, 1997). Conflict resolution refers to the process ofcommunication between two or more groups that are re-solving a dispute through the help of a mediator. The me-diator seeks to terminate the conflict and restore social re-lations between the groups to some level of legitimacy(Vaught, 1997). Attempts are made to help people refrainfrom assigning blame and instead to focus on understandingthe origins of the dispute and to find common ground forconsensus (Kottler, 1994).

    Lederach (1995) suggested that conflicts are constitutedlargely by the taken-for-granted, common sense understand-ings that people have about their world, including them-selves and the other people who inhabit it. Such commonsense includes knowledge about what is typically viewed asright and wrong; how to proceed; and whom to turn to when,where, and with what expectations. Mediators also hope tohelp people develop a better understanding of each otherspositions, to develop a relationship based on mutual respect,and to encourage parties to reflect on one anothers view-points in such a way that they will be more willing to re-solve their disputes (Winslade & Monk, 2000).

    There are a number of conflict resolution paths to followwhen resolving disputes among groups of students. The mostcommon programs used in schools often involve peer media-tion and process curriculum (Bodine et al., 1994; Gilhooley &Scheuch, 2000). The peer mediation approach is a conflict reso-lution program that uses a limited number of trained studentswho mediate school disputes and, it is hoped, disseminate theirexperience to others. The process curriculum approach uses aspecific class time to teach students conflict resolution con-cepts and skills. In one model, for example, students are helped

    to define their definitions of the problem, exchange p...

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