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In the Trenches: Teaching kids to solve problems

By Patricia Biggs
The Arizona Republic
June 23, 1999

Judge Dorothy Nelson of the 9th District Court of Appeals is weary of the nation's jam-packed court calendars and the adversarial approach people take in solving problems.

Even more, she's weary of the violence that has infiltrated the country she's committed to serving.

"Our adversary system in the courts is too painful . . . for a civilized society," Nelson said at a Tempe town meeting on "Alternatives to Violence in the Schools" last week.

"Violence has grown to alarming proportions," Nelson said.

The meeting was in conjunction with the 23rd annual international conference of the Association for Baha'i Studies. To a packed grand ballroom crowd of richly mixed ethnicity, Nelson offered a choice:

"As we enter the next century, we can go along with the adversarial approach, or we can take the collaborative, peaceful approach."

Nelson moderated a panel discussion on violence. The consensus, in a nutshell, was that the community within any school is a fair representation of our communities outside the schools, and that to effect a change within, one must change the larger community.

The big question: How?

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill allowing schools to post the Ten Commandments, and the movie industry offered to check ID's when selling tickets to R movies. Could such actions begin to touch the crux of our problem with violence?

Probably not.

As one of the panelists put it: "When looking to solve a problem, first get out the mirror as opposed to a telescope."

Changing our culture of violence will take all of us. It will require the best effort we can elicit from within.

As a parent, I've taken a second look at what my two younger children are viewing and what games they're playing. I'm not sure whether there's a direct link between what a child sees on a screen -- theater, TV or computer -- and what that child considers OK in reality. But that's the trickiest part of parenting: By the time you can tell how decent a job you've done, your child is grown and it's largely too late to fix your errors.

Evaluating your own involvement as a parent should not conjure up the need for superhero acts. Rather, it means checking how well you are paying attention.

The other night, after telling my son for the third time to go to bed, I watched him start walking slowly out of the room. Flash of inspiration: I realized something was on his mind.

I called him back, sat down with him and asked him what was up. It took a couple minutes and some soft-spoken prompting, but he opened up with some heartfelt feelings about the way he was being treated by some kids.

After I'd listened and asked questions to get a fair understanding of his situation, I said, "Would you like to know what I think?"

And because I had listened first, he was willing to listen to me.

He went to bed 20 minutes late, but he went to bed with a plan for dealing with his problem, and more importantly, with the feeling that I was in his corner.

That's involvement. Listening, teaching a child how to think through a problem rather than react violently.

Our culture can be changed.

Look in the mirror.

©Copyright 1999, Arizona Central
Original Story

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