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Solving School Problems: a conflict resolution approach

Solving School Problems: a conflict resolution approach

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Published by NFPress
Problems are analyzed by seven questions. Advocacy versus analysis is discussed. Competing interests are identified.
Problems are analyzed by seven questions. Advocacy versus analysis is discussed. Competing interests are identified.

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Published by: NFPress on Jan 17, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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This document is rewritten from Chapter 3 of Gary K. Clabaugh & Edward G. Rozycki
New York: Harper Rowe 1990
Solving School Problems:a conflict resolution approach
©2002 Gary K. Clabaugh & Edward G. Rozycki
Related Materials:
Catalog of Problem Analyses
Rationales for InterventionPowerPoint Presentation
 edited 8/3/09"
To study the strategy of conflict is to take the view that most conflict situations are essentially bargaining situations. Viewing conflict behavior as a bargaining process is useful in keeping us from becoming exclusivelypreoccupied either withthe conflict or with the common interest."---Thomas C. Shelling (
PREVIEWPROBLEMSTHE SCHOOLS AND THEIR "PROBLEMS"ANALYZING PROBLEMSThe SituationConcrete ProblemsAbstract ProblemsThe PeopleVarieties of Stakeholder PerceptionsLooking for CommonCriteriaWho Says So?Different Sources of Author ityConcerns and InterestsSorting Out InterestsSome Incompatible InterestsDenying Concerns and InterestsProposals for Change: "Solutions"and PositionPowerholdersThe OutcomesSCHOOL PROBLEMS ANDCONSENSUSSUMMARYQUESTIONSEFERENCES
 What are educational problems? Why are there schooling controversies? What conflicts underlie them?How can we deal with them? The aim of this chapter is to develop critical perspectives needed to handleschooling problems effectively. Rather than just surveying school problems and controversies, we will usethe set of basic questions given in Chart 1 to help us understand and deal with educational conflict.
Q1. What is the situation?Q2. Whom does it concern?
Q3. How do they perceive it?Q4. Why does it concern them?Q5. What changes do they propose?Q6. Can and will anything be done?Q7. Who gains and who loses from thechange?Chart 1These Analysis Questions will help us to understand why school problems are particularly troublesome andsurprisingly persistent.
 Problems are human judgments about situations. Problems do not exist independently of some human beingsfinding some situation problematic. For someone to say, "I have a problem," is for them to say, "Here issomething that concerns me and I want you to be concerned, too." It is an attempt to impose expectations onus in a way that is difficult to reject. It is often seen as unsympathetic to respond, "That is not my problem."But, given a scarcity of time and resources, it may be a wise thing to do.A school is often seen as a moral community whose members cannot easily profess lack of concern foranything which might be thought to impact upon children. The question, "How are drugs and alcohol abusea school problem?" sounds heartless and unworthy of a "real" educator. But the catch is this: schools areimagined also to be productive organizations, "factories" as it were which are expected to yield substantialresults. By accepting concerns on moral grounds, educators are trapped into possibly unfulfillableexpectations for results.
Everyone seems to agreee that the schools have problems. Indeed, many believe that the severity of schoolproblems has increased over the last forty years. According to a survey reported in an 1988 issue of TIMEmagazine, the 1940's schools were faced with the following "problems" that look quite minor compared tothose forty years later. Compare the lists in Chart 2.In the 1940'sIn the 1980'sTalkingChewing GumMaking NoiseRunning in HallsDrug AbuseAlcohol AbusePregnancySuicideRape, Robbery Assault,
Getting out of placein lineImproper ClothingLitteringBurglaryArson, BombingsSource:
Time Magazine
, 2-1-88Chart 2The contrast between the two lists is startling. How can we account for the difference in both the numberand severity of school problems over forty years?Four explanations come readily to mind:a. Degeneracy: Kids are worse than they've ever been.b. Selection: There was a 50% dropout rate during the 40's compared to a 10%dropout rate in 1986. Perhaps "troublemakers" are being kept in school.b. Exposure: Problems which were covered up in the forties are made public today.c. Expansion of Responsibility : Schools have been asked to deal with situationsthey formerly gave over to other agencies. This is what makes them "schoolproblems."
Of these four explanations, only the last avoids jumping to conclusions. To talk of "degeneracy," or"troublemakers," or "problems," even, is to rush to judgment. Besides, there is no evidence that youngpeople are more "degenerate" nowadays than they have ever been. We have to avoid getting caught up toosoon in judgmental language and transforming a real, but specific concern into a slogan.In the next section we will develop a method for applying the analysis questions given above. One purposeof these analysis questions is to reduce the sloganistic quality of problem statements. This helps us get at theconcerns people have about situations without forcing us to share their concerns until we decide it is wise todo so.
When people see that a situation conflicts with their interests, they often declare, "There is a problem here".This impersonal, "objective" manner of statement obscures their own involvement in the situation. Butlacking their specific interests, and their perception that a certain conflict faced them, they would not talk of a "problem." "Problem" is a sloganistic term. People talk of problems in order to enlist our sympathies andparticularly our resources. Wisdom requires we examine their claims before committing ourselves.The intelligent use of limited resources requires us to carefully assess expectations before undertakingaction. Recall the questions we will use to examine possible problems. These are given again in Chart 1:

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