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The Pros & Cons of Peer Mediation in Secondary Schools

by Chris Blake

In high schools across the country, conflicts are being resolved by fellow students rather than by a teacher, principal or other member of the school administration. Students are selected and trained as mediators who can help their peers resolve everyday disputes before they escalate into something serious. Using this peer mediation instead of taking problems to a higher authority has both advantages and disadvantages for the students involved.

Teaching Life Lessons

Peer mediation teaches a number of life skills and lessons important to success later in life. Students on the receiving end of peer mediation learn how to effectively solve problems on their own rather than relying on a third party. This often causes students to make a greater commitment to finding and effecting solutions. Leah Jones-Bamman, who chairs the Peer Mediation Standards Committee of the Association for Conflict Resolution, says that peer mediation is more effective than administrative intervention because peers consider each other less threatening than authority figures. Realizing that adult intervention is not necessary to solve everyday problems creates a sense of independence. For the mediators, this practice teaches leadership and communication skills.

Beyond the Classroom

The benefits of peer mediation extend far beyond the classroom. From school staff to student families and society, peer mediation affects a wide range of people. Teachers become more effective because there is less pressure to constantly be a disciplinarian, improving the overall learning environment. Families may see that the process carries over into their home life and that conflicts that arise outside of school are more effectively resolved. Perhaps most importantly, students who learn peer mediation as children learn a skill that will aid them in resolving conflicts peacefully as adults.

Lack of Resources

A successful peer mediation group requires funding to train students, advisers and administrators. Jones-Bamman states that student mediators need 10 to 20 hours of training. This requires hiring personnel and purchasing resources for effective training. Often, in struggling districts trying to find the resources for basic school supplies, the cost of training and getting a mediation program off the ground can becomes a major obstacle. The National Crime Prevention Council points out that while school districts may be able to seek support from community businesses and civic groups or apply for grants, this can take time and money away from school curriculum.

Evaluation of Programs

William Haft and Elaine Weiss of Harvard University point out that concrete evaluation of peer mediation programs can be difficult on several different levels. They explain that finding equivalent schools and control groups to compare results can be hard since school systems vary greatly. Even in cases where data is provided for evaluation, many school systems cannot afford researchers to determine the effectiveness of these programs. Haft and Weiss state that because peer mediation affects different kids in different ways, a firm conclusion as to whether peer mediation works may not be possible to reach.

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