Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Handling Conflict in Education with Facilitated Dialogues (Excerpt from Peace and Conflict Studies Journal Conference 2021)

This blog post was written by Darby Munroe regarding her thoughts about the rise of patriot education over peace education in the US since 2016. Darby explains why she disagrees with this trend and how educators can discuss difficult topics with students in the class using peace education techniques. 

Darby will host a webinar to explain these techniques on March 24th @ 7 PM.  

Since 2016, the rise in Nationalism under the former presidential leadership has revealed undercurrents of racism and structural violence throughout our nation.  The former President rallied for Patriotic Education, to further a Nationalistic platform.  His “Teach American Exceptionalism” item is under his “Fighting for You” agenda.  In it, he claimed that the United States does not have a racism problem, but instead that young people are brainwashed into thinking bad things and must focus on how exceptional we, as a nation, really are. What’s missing is actual data and grounding in theories to back up his claims that we do not have race related issues in the US, and how an American Exceptionalism curriculum would benefit schools and communities.  There is, however, a large body of research on peace education in schools, and the benefits to surrounding communities.

 Background info and how to talk about difficult topics in education


 As an educator, I have been in a variety of classrooms for the past few decades, including alternative education and online settings.  As a practitioner, I focus on restorative practices in education, like circles.  I am a certified family mediator and also work with the Online Peer Mediation Platform.  As a researcher, I conducted research on facilitated dialogues with Dr. Cheryl Duckworth in Broward County High Schools.  This research was published in Conflict Resolution Quarterly.  It is entitled, “Students can change a school”: Understanding the role of youth leadership in building a school culture of peace.



Peace Ed vs Patriotic Ed








 Peace education is rooted in the works of bell hooks, Paulo Friere and Maria Montessori, to name just a few thought leaders in the field.  Instead of a banking or factory model of education, where authoritarian teachers rule the classroom with strict classroom management and lesson plans, similar to many traditional schools, peace education views students as co-creators of knowledge, teaching and learning form one another.  The teacher does not have power over the classroom, but instead everyone has power with each other.  Social emotional learning, restorative justice, and nonviolence communication are the norms, and take priority over curriculum and testing.


 The last person to hold office proposed Patriotic Education, promoting how great Americans are, some may say to the point of being elitist.  The ideas included downplayed systemic racism and claimed anything democratic was indoctrination.  The undertones of the proposed patriotic education promoted an us vs them attitude, which meant to deepen the divide both in our nation and the world.

 Theories that can be used to determine what effects peace education and patriotic education will have on children and communities


 Critical Peace Education Theory falls in line with social justice and education reform.  Educators are more concerned with shaping critical thinkers than having students who can regurgitate material. Through power with and restorative models, injustices and inequalities are addressed.  Students learn how to mediate and prevent conflict and practice nonviolence communication.  Students and teachers are agents of change.


 Johan Galtung coined structural violence as any form of violence an institution, like an educational system, harms people by preventing them from getting their basic needs met.  Think outside of the box, violence does not necessarily mean physical violence.  It could someone not reaching their full potential. 

 Is learning conflict resolution skills a basic need?

Should peace education be a basic need?

If students learned these things in school, how would it impact the larger community?

 How to facilitate difficult conversations

 Obviously, not everyone is going to agree about difficult topics in education, especially when it comes to politics or religion.  A look at the news and social media over the past few years show s just how divisive people can be and just how much misinformation is out there.  More proof of why critical thinking, a tenant of peace education, show be taught in public schools.  Here are some examples of conflict resolution processes that can be used in educational settings to help people discuss things productively.


 Facilitators can show participants there is more than one way to view conflict.

Prep work (structure, facilities/online, contacts)

One event or a Series of Events

Ground Rules and Expectations

Facilitated Dialogues are confidential safe spaces.  People don’t have to agree with one another, but they can learn to seek to understand each other and find common ground.

Topics to be discussed

Large group and break out groups


Potential Agreements, further actions 


 Not all schools adopt restorative justice or peace education practices.  Educators can implement preventative circles in their classrooms on a regular basis to help teach and model nonviolent communication and conflict resolution.    Think of a facilitated dialogue, but on a much smaller scale, and youth led.


 How can the Online Peer Mediation Platform help with facilitating difficult conversations in education?  If you want additional training, consultation, or assistance, the Online Peer Mediation Team can assist you.  

Online Peer Mediation Platform


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