School Mediator's Field Guide:
Prejudice, Sexual Harassment,
Large Groups and Other Daily Challenges
Peer Mediation in Schools
Welcome to the January issue of The School
This month's issue explores the concept of
adultism and its relationship to both public
education and peer mediation.
Please send along your thoughts; hearing from you is the
best part of
writing this newsletter.
Wishing you healthy and peaceful 2004,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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"The schools as presently constituted serve the interests
of a society
content to define education as a means of indoctrination
and a way of
teaching people to know their place." -Lewis Lapham
Put yourself in this scenario, you adults reading this in
... We have gathered you all here because things are
about to change
Quit your jobs; put aside your other interests:
For the next 12 years, you are going to be attending
We have sorted you into groups according to your
chronological age: 33
year olds, proceed to room 214 down the hall; 58 year
olds, please stop whining and walk in single file to the
We have designed the curriculum. We know that it
unrelated to your daily life, to your concerns and to your
that's just the way it is.
In fact, if you don't perform up to our expectations,
learning what we
decide you need to know, when we decide you need to
know it, there will
be consequences that could have lifelong implications.
One more thing: Misbehavior will not be tolerated. We
would prefer you
to be excited about all this, but if you can't muster
enthusiasm, at least
don't talk back.
Did we hear moaning? "This is not what you want to do!"
What gave you the impression we are interested in what
An unpleasant scenario? Unquestionably.
But if we are honest, we have to acknowledge that
this is how many
young people experience school.
Our public education system, designed by adults, leaves
little room for
student input or student choice.
And increasingly, coercive tactics--zero tolerance
policies, high stakes
testing, threats of punishment, etc.--are employed both
to get students to
school, and to "inspire" them to do what educators want
when they are
Sure, most young people acquiesce with only occasional
can we reasonably expect them to act differently when
this is the only
approach to education they have ever known?
And true too, many educators, by engaging their
students, are able to
actually inspire them. Students in these classrooms
would freely choose
to attend school.
Still, public education provides ample evidence of a form
mistreatment increasingly known as "adultism."
Adultism refers to "behaviors and attitudes that are
based on the
assumption that adults are better than young
entitled to act
upon them without their agreement." (2) It is
"disrespect towards the intelligence, judgment, emotional
leadership, or physical being of young people." (3)
And adultism is so pervasive in our world that, like the
fish who don't
realize they live in water, most of us are simply unaware
Consider a few obvious examples:
The stranger who touches a toddler without asking
The parent who grabs her crying son's arm and drags him
The merchant who suspiciously follows anyone under the
age of twenty
through his store...
The teacher who treats a student rudely...
All these actions, taken with impunity, demonstrate the
disrespect that young people regularly face.
Now I am not suggesting that 12 year olds go out and
rent their own
apartments. Young people expect, crave and depend
upon the guidance,
advice, structure, material support, and discipline that
caring adults can
Nor am I knocking the institution of public schools. Quite
Providing free public education is one of the finest
our culture, and one that is essential to creating a just,
My concern is that the dominant approach to public
demonstrates a gross lack of respect for and
understanding of young
people's ability to manage their own lives in an
Students simply are given little choice about matters
related to their education: what to learn, when to
learn, who to
with, where to learn, who should teach them, etc.
And young people are so much more capable of
guiding their lives
their learning than we give them credit for.
This lack of self-determination in schools is perhaps the
why students respond so positively to peer mediation.
By contrast, peer
mediation is fundamentally concerned with showing
and giving power to young people.
In fact, peer mediation is characterized by a relatively
benign set of
that nevertheless seem almost revolutionary in the
context. Questions like:
Do you want to be here and participate?
How can we spend this time in a way that is most
productive for you?
What are your concerns, hopes and desires?
How do you feel today?
How do you understand your current life situation?
Is this process serving you?
What do you need to move forward?
As a society, we would do well to encourage
educators to ask their
students similar questions.
And respond seriously, and searchingly, to students'
Please send your thoughts...
(Thanks to Margaret Pevac for her paper, David Leon for
the article, and
Rachel for talking me off the ledge.)
(1) "School Bells", by Lewis Lapham, in Harpers Magazine,
(2) "A Key to Developing Positive Youth-Adult
Relationships," by John
Bell, at http://freechild.org/bell.htm
(3) "Adultism is an 'ism' too," by Candice Swiderski and
Follow the link below for more information about
Information on Adultism
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