Using Mediation against Violence in the Schools
Violence in the schools has repeatedly been a subject that has aroused the concern of the German public. Because of the country’s federalist structure, however, there are no nationwide programs for combating school violence. Yet at the regional level there is plenty going on. One thing is clear: only by dealing openly with conflicts can we get a grip on the problem.
Anna sits weeping in a corner of the schoolyard of the Captain from Köpenick Elementary School in Berlin. Once again her classmates have refused to let her play with them. Two peer mediators in yellow fluro vests moderate: as neutral parties, these pupils with mediation training moderate a discussion in which both sides explain their points of view and describe their feelings. Anna says that the others always run away from her or tell her she should go away. The other girls feel pressured by Anna and would rather play by themselves. The peer mediators encourage both sides to express their wishes. The goal is that those involved in the quarrel should themselves find a solution and implement it. It is then more likely that they will hold to the agreement. They agree that in the next break Anna may play with them. The girls want to try to find a role for her in their games. Next week the peer mediators again have a date to talk with Anna and the others. Then they will evaluate what has changed since the mediation.
The Berlin peer mediation model
This often involves more difficult cases than that of Anna. In the 2010/2011 school year, Berlin schools reported 1,468 emergencies and instances of violence, seven percent less than in the previous year. The statistic is based on the current violence prevention report of the Berlin Senate Administration for Education, Youth and Science.
Invisible violence is the main problem
“The constructive handling of conflicts is unfortunately not a subject taught in the classroom”, says Hagedorn. Instead, there is a growing pressure to perform on both teachers and pupils, leaving hardly any time to deal with interpersonal issues. “Lots of pressure and other stressful experiences increase the risk of conflicts”, says Bastian Hartwig of the special violence and crisis team of the Regional Counseling and Support Center (Regionales Beratungs- und Unterstützungszentrums / ReBUZ) in Bremen. “In addition to experiences at school, the home environment and peer groups are significant for the emergence of violence”. The team from the ReBUZ counsels teachers, pupils and families in conflict and crisis situations. They intervene and act as a go-between for the people concerned and the relevant agencies that can provide further assistance. A major emphasis of the ReBUZ is to sensitize teachers to the problems. “Many forms of violence aren’t even open”, says Hartwig, “they work quietly and under cover.”
No national plan, but many projectsAccording to the German Basic Law, the 16 federal states are each responsible for its educational policy. There are therefore no nationwide, overarching initiatives or concepts against violence in the schools or an overview of the actual level of violence. On the other hand, through this federalist structure many valuable ideas have emerged at the state level. Mediators are one approach. Other schools have organized music festivals (“Music against Violence” at the Mücke Comprehensive School in Hesse), social skills training (“Learning Playfully How to Quarrel” in North-Rhine Westphalia) or sent an exhibition of school children’s pictures on tour, as did the 1992 initiative launched by the Ludwigshafen graphic artist Silvia Izi entitled “Who If Not Us?”.
There are also institutions in other federal states such as the ReBUZ, which provides help and networks all the important actors with each other. Likewise counseling centers that provide support for the victims of school violence and their parents. And telephone numbers that the children involved can call. Bastian Hartwig of the ReBUZ in Bremen sums up a point on which all those concerned with the subject of violence in the schools agree: “You have to take a close look. Prevention, counseling, intervention and follow-up are necessary. Only when conflicts are recognized, and have space in which they can be openly and peacefully resolved, can we effectively reduce violence in the schools”.
is a social scientist, freelance journalist and author.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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