How are conflicts taught, dealt with, and solved? Are different conflicts unique and require separate solutions, or are there overarching approaches that help solve conflicts, regardless of the scale and type of the conflict? And how do teachers try to teach about and handle conflict resolution? Interestingly, when discussing solutions, there was the slightest distinction between interpersonal and more geo-political problems: teachers answered the questions from both perspectives and often used the same language to denote solutions. Generally, most teachers seem to think that solving conflicts and problems usually requires mutual respect and willingness to listen to each other.
On an individual level, the teachers state that when students have conflicts together in the classroom, that often takes precedence over whatever they were planning to discuss: “This has happened countless times - I’ve gone into the classroom, knowing that I’m going to talk about Avarayr for example, but the students have interpersonal or inter-group conflicts. I’m not going to talk about the initial topic in that case”, says one of the teachers. In such situations, the teacher Susanna notes that she gives students that don’t “like each other” group work: “At first, they listen to each other because they have to, then they start to want to speak with each other.”
On a more global level, Martha notes that she tries to discuss the different interests at play when discussing geopolitical conflicts. At the same time, Lia says that she does role play: “One group presents one side’s interest, another group presents the other side’s interest, and the third group acts as the neutral observer that analyzes what each group has said.” She goes on to say that the curriculum used to require them to present specific points of view, while now the focus is more on thinking: sometimes she asks a question and a student answers something she wasn’t expecting; she doesn’t tell them they’re wrong. Instead, she asks, “What if you look at it from this perspective”? The reasons she states for this go back to the affective influence of the teacher: according to her, if a teacher states something is wrong or right, students feel impelled to accept that as such, so she utters such statements carefully.
On the other hand, the students’ experiences around learning about conflict are varied and different. Hranush states that each teacher presented their own opinion, but she’s also “had teachers that presented the interests of both countries and did not state a clear conclusion around what is right, and asked the students what they thought about it or what they would have done.” Similarly, Kristina also says that it’s very dependent on the teacher. She recalls discussing the 2016 April war with her math teacher but does not recall multiperspectivity in her school history classes. However, learning about the history of the Middle East in university helped her realize that identity are understood differently by different people, and exploring that led her to think more about different perspectives and consider different approaches to history.
This last observation seems to sum up what the dialogue was about nicely: while teachers and students had different perspectives on different actual conflicts and their opinions on how they were / should have been taught, most seemed to agree that conflict exploration and resolution required a commitment to multiperspectivity, an awareness of one’s positionality, and an openness to active communication and common ground. While conflicts and arguments are natural parts of our lives and interactions, how they are embodied, discussed, and explored in the classroom and real life is up to us and our active engagement with those challenging topics and situations.
This article is based on dialogue between history teachers and students within the scope of the “Intergenerational Dialogue” project led by Paradigma Educational Foundation in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The real names of dialogue participants have been changed to protect their privacy.