'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts
from our favourite books, pamphlets or other.
Peer to peer
Introduced by Rob Fairmichael
Adult approaches to conflict do not just come
from nowhere. The child is parent to the adult, and socialisation
of the child comes from a variety of sources – parents,
family, peers, mass media, school, and so on. Unfortunately
we have not yet arrived at a situation where, North or South,
conflict resolution or transformation is a basic part of the
educational curriculum and system. It should be. No young
person should be leaving school without a knowledge of the
phases of conflict and the possibilities of mediation and
principled negotiation – and having had an opportunity
to try these out.
While peer mediation is used in some schools
in Ireland, we sadly lost the main exponent and practitioner
we had, Jerry Tyrrell, with his death at the end of 2001.
What follows is from Jerry Tyrrell’s book “Peer
Mediation - a process for primary schools” , Souvenir
Press, 2002, 318 pages, ISBN 0 283 63601 4. Jerry struggled
with developing peer mediation and it is my firm belief that,
eventually, we will get there, when educators and legislators
realise that equipping children and young adults to be able
to deal with conflict is an absolute essential of any education,
and none more so than in Ireland. But, as Jerry Tyrrell was
adamant in pointing out, that also has us implications for
What follows are a few extracts from this book
but in this short space I am not trying to quote the methodology
for doing it, or training in it, which are provided in detail
in the book itself. However, as a way of detailing what is
in the book, I will quote first of all the chapter headings:
“1. What is peer mediation?
2. How are children trained in peer mediation?
3. Can children mediate conflicts? Yes!
4. How did peer mediation get into primary schools?
5. Children’s needs and the learning process
6. Peer mediation skills and the Northern Ireland peace process
7. How to respond to resistance
8. How to create a self-sustaining programme in schools
9. If peer mediation is the answer, what is the question?
10. Is peer mediation always the answer?
11.The future of peer mediation”
“Peer mediation is a process which endeavours
to create a safe environment where disputants will be able
to tell their stories and be heard by each other in the presence
of a third party….” (p19)
“I find it extraordinary that we adults
so consistently dismiss children’s conflicts as trivial.
Are we not aware that disagreements in our adults lives are
sparked off by seemingly trivial incidents? The mislaid car
key, the forgotten phone message…And that the child’s
‘trivial’ conflict offers him the opportunity
to learn to deal with those he will encounter throughout his
adult life. Conflict is inevitable’ it is how we deal
with it that decides whether it will be constructive or destructive.
We must learn to deal with conflicts before they escalate.
I remember a school principal once told me that one great
advantage of peer mediation is that it nips bullying in the
bud: it deals with issues before they spiral out of control.”
“Thought needs to be given to the kind
of environment needed for the skills of teamwork, problem-solving
and creative thinking to flourish. The concept of the democratic
classroom is one that might provide the starting-point for
such an environment. In essence, this is about the teacher
and the class meeting together and deciding on ground-rules,
addressing problems, agreeing on solutions and also devising
sanctions of agreements aren’t kept. A microcosm of
society, in fact.
As this book demonstrates, the process of peer
mediation training transforms relationships within the class.
The training takes place in a workshop context, with children
and adults sitting together in a circle. On more than ne occasion
that I have witnessed, when the children return to their normal
classroom environment, they have asked the teacher if they
could continue to use the workshop ground-rules, such as ‘No
putdowns’. Already at an early stage, teachers sense
the contradiction between the conventional didactic teaching
style of the classroom and the interactive methodologies of
the workshop approach, and are struck by how much more effective
a learning and teaching environment the latter can be.
In trying to establish peer mediation in schools,
the focus of a substantial part of this book, I have come
to the resounding conclusions that, if schools are to create
a culture which can sustain peer mediation as part of a whole-school
approach, they must be prepared for change and transformation.”
“The children themselves articulate why
they value peer mediation. This one was in no doubt: ‘Children
have a better understanding of children’s disputes than
adults. Children have time for each other, teachers and other
adults are often too busy or distracted or having a bad day
and shout at children, making them feel small.’ The
experience of many peer mediation projects is indeed that
children sometimes find it easier to talk to other children
than to adults. They know they will be listened to. They will
have a say in the solution. Often the main thing that children
want is to be friends again. They know if it doesn’t
work out they can still approach an adult to get the situation
sorted out.” (p.31)
“In the survey of peer mediation agencies,”
[referred to in the book] “they were asked what was
the key message that they would like to get across to the
reader of this book. Their individual responses can be summarised
- Children understand conflicts and can resolve them creatively
and they are capable of so much more if we give them the opportunity.
- Peer mediation needs a big commitment, and needs whole-school
support. It requires time and a non-stop effort to keep the
scheme going, but it is a good investment.
- Peer mediation skills are for life, and offer children positive
responses to conflict.
- The skills and knowledge should be for all, not just for
a small group of children in a school. We need to think about
how to deal with the issue of pupils feeling left out if not
selected as peer mediators. Every child needs to know what
to expect, whether he or she is a mediator or not.
- Peer mediation works better as part of a programme of developing
good relationships and dealing with conflict. It goes together
with anti-bullying policies.
- Mediation is a wonderful concept; it’s simple, it
works, and it makes for a better ethos not only in the schools
but in the community as a whole.” (p. 291-292)