Mediation without Morals

"Deadly Day for Teens" the headline read. One student was killed and another shot at a Florida high school. Once again an argument between young people ended in a senseless act of violence. Tragedies like this are creating an atmosphere of fear and danger in our country's schools. The Indianapolis Star reports that every school day 160,000 students nationwide stay home because they are afraid of violence--and 135,000 students carry guns to school. Ironically, this siege mentality in our public schools may partly be due to a highly touted program for resolving problems called "conflict resolution." At the heart of this new method is the belief that young people resort to violence because they lack the skills to resolve disputes any other way. According to its proponents, conflict resolution gives kids the tools to peacefully resolve confrontations. When a dispute arises, they are instructed to stop what they're doing, identify the problem, and then generate and evaluate alternatives to conflict and plan accordingly. Sounds reasonable enough. But conflict resolution is fatally flawed because it refuses to make moral judgments. As Cheryl Benard, writing in the Washington Post, points out, mediation programs such as conflict resolution avoid judging an individual's behavior. If two people are fighting over something, the mediators affirm each person and urge both of them to "generate and evaluate alternatives to conflict" by finding a way to compromise. But try telling a high school kid to "generate and evaluate alternatives to conflict" when the class thug is walking off with his Nikes. He wants justice; he wants--and deserves--to have a wrong righted and his shoes returned. By skirting the issue of right and wrong, conflict resolution actually contributes to violent behavior. Denied justice, the wronged individual is more likely to strike out in violent frustration. And conversely, aggressive students know they will get off with a slap on the hand instead of truly being called into account for their wrong actions. And since both sides have to compromise, the aggressor gets half of what he wants. He learns that force and aggression pay off. The underlying problem with conflict resolution is that it ignores the deeper problem of sin. James writes in his epistle that conflict proceeds from "the passions that are at war in your members." We desire and covet that which isn't ours, and will steal and even kill to get it. That's why justice is needed--to come to the aid of those who are the victims of the wrongful passions of others. Christians need to be involved as salt and light in local PTAs and on school boards. Instead of unworkable and ineffectual methods to solve problems, what is needed is a return to old-fashioned discipline. After all, fairness and justice is in the end better for both victim and victimizer. It reassures the victim that justice will be done, and teaches the victimizer that he will be held accountable for his actions. Only then will our schools once again become the safe havens for learning they are meant to be.  


Chuck Colson


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