In recent years, through the watchful eye of the media, we have become overwhelmed with statistical evidence of an alarming increase in antisocial behavior and violent offences by young people. In Nova Scotia, a survey conducted in 1995 indicates that over one third of all eighth graders feels intimidated or unsafe in school. There are a number of theories that attempt to explain this trend; from changing family structure and the glorification of violence on television and in movies, to unemployment and poverty. The problem of increased violence among young people is one which concerns us all.
There is an ongoing debate about solutions. Some people believe that we should "get tougher" and impose more severe punishments. Past experience has shown us that, although coercive measures may stop violence in the short run, they often create negative emotions which start their own cycle of undesirable behavior. Suspensions, detentions and expulsions only partially address the issue of violating school rules. These responses do not address that students' inability to resolve conflict effectively and often result in repeat offences. The Discipline Handbook for Nova Scotia Schools published by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Culture in 1993 states.
It is recommended that out of school suspension be employed sparingly as there is little evidence that it accomplishes any real educational purpose or encourages any change in an individual's behavior.
The long-term solution is to create and environment in which aggressive behavior of any kind is considered to be socially unacceptable by students, teachers and parents. Since schools today are often the one remaining stable influence in the lives of most young people, many educators have come to the conclusion that it is incumbent upon them to equip students with the attitudes, knowledge and skills they need to become responsible, fully participating citizens. Against the backdrop of an increasingly violent society, many schools with the Atlantic Provinces have sought out innovative programs to teach young people effective strategies to cope with the challenge of living harmoniously with one another.
Creating a safe and positive school climate takes time and commitment. Schools that have declared a commitment to creating a peaceful climate are seeking out programs and strategies to help them achieve this goal. Many schools are looking for effective strategies to deal with the conflict that is an inevitable part of daily life in all schools. Teachers and administrators traditionally spend a considerable amount of time dealing with interpersonal conflicts, due to the limited amount of time available to them, these conflicts are often left unresolved. As educators, we can help our students become effective problem solvers by giving them the knowledge and skills they need to allow them to deal effectively with conflict.
A school-based mediation program that promotes "win-win" problem solving provides an effective alternative to traditional responses to conflict.