School sign in Sarajevo

understanding conflict
a resource for use in English, Humanities, Social Science or General Studies

looking at

Which way to peace?
Nature of peace education
Peace education in the post cold war era
Alternative futures
Educating for a sustainable future
Towards a peace education curriculum.
Democratic education
Books, references and resources
on peace education
Understanding conflict

conflict - what is it

Ground Rules

It is essential to establish certain ground rules (e.g. on confidentiality, on ownership of opinions etc) and to emphasise that no-one is required or should be pressured into talking about areas which they wish to remain private. Students must be clear on the ground rules. There is a sample set of ground rules given at the end of this article. Teachers could construct their own using this as a basis, and, after consulting students, a final version could be provided as a handout.

Students should be told about the purpose of the activity – for example, to use conversation and students life histories to better understand conflict and conflict management. They should also be given adequate pointers as to the sorts of things they might consider to be relevant in each session. For example, recount a major argument or disagreement you had with someone else in your family, describing why there was disagreement and how (if at all) it came to be resolved (or why it wasn’t resolved). Focus on the ideas and attitudes of others as well as your own.

Class management: Group members will probably talk about different experiences within the chosen theme (e.g. conflict in the family situation). However, the most important thing is that the students are comfortable working together and they should be allowed to choose their own partners if necessary. Teachers should be prepared to intervene if students are finding it hard to talk, or if there are any unconstructive disagreements.

Teachers need to allocate time for an introduction, group work, group collation of data and a plenary. They also need to enforce time limits to ensure all have a chance to talk.

Room requirements: The room should be large enough for the groups to find space where they can talk without being disturbed and without disturbing others.

Equipment required: OHP, board or flip chart; students need notepads.

Handouts: ‘Ground Rules for Life Experiences Sessions’. (see here)

Staff preparation: Decide on a relevant area of conflict to be covered.

Prepare some guidelines, including a Ground Rules handout (which can be amended after the introduction).

Gather references/resources relevant to the conflict situation.

Possibly arranging the various students in groups.

Student preparation: Students are told in advance that they are covering conflict in the family, or at school, or in some other aspect of life. It is important that students are given time to think about the topic, to collect and recollect their thoughts and memories. Perhaps they could write these down before the (first) session. Students may wish to bring material (photographs, diaries, etc.) if they feel that they are relevant.

Students may be encouraged to start by constructing a timeline of relevant key points in their lives. This could provide a framework and can act as a prompt. If teachers wish to focus on Life Histories as a means of exploring conflict situations, then this preparation is essential.

I have used this approach, though in a more limited way than outlined here, in teaching GCE Advanced Level Sociology to classes of ten to twenty students. It has been particularly valuable when discussing sociological themes and ideas in topics like the family and education. It helped some students to perceive and organise school experience in a reflexive way, whilst highlighting themes and issues which, hitherto, they had felt to be incidental to their own and others’ schooling. Some students also became much more critical of their experiences and began to question and analyse previously ‘taken for granted’ experiences and expectations.

Some students felt more comfortable with this approach than did others, and this was reflected in the amount they contributed to the data and discussions. It may be helpful if teachers supplied a list of prompt questions which students can refer to in their groups. However, this may not be necessary for all groups. Discrete, and judicious, teacher intervention may also be required in order to progress a discussion. It is vital to allow students who feel very uncomfortable to withdraw. This may well occur when examining a ‘sensitive’ area, and we must remain aware that some aspects of conflict in family life can be very sensitive. Discussion can sometimes get heated and personal. It is the teacher’s responsibility to listen to what seems to be happening and intervene where they consider it to be necessary.

I have used this activity once near the start of a course. Two students later told me that a ‘personal-experience’ start to the course boosted their confidence and helped to allay their fears about getting to grips with sociology, which initially for them seemed a very academic discipline.

Concluding points
I have not used this approach specifically in helping students to understand conflict. However, it seems to me that it can be adapted for sessions on conflict and conflict resolution, and this is what I have attempted to do here. Whether this approach is also useful for the wider field of peace education – for example discussing pacifism, war toys, religious approaches to war and peace, a ‘just war’ etc – remains to be seen. I look forward to receiving your comments!

'That book we found you reading corrupted me Smith,'

  P E A C E  P L E D G E  U N I O N  1 Peace Passage London N7 0BT, Britain.
  phone  +44 (0)20 7424 9444  fax: +44 (0)20 7482 6390     CONTACT US