Last week SCMA put on a program organized by Jason Harper, about peer mediation programs in high schools. The stars of the program were undoubtedly the three high school students trained as mediators at University High School, who described how they spend every sixth period preventing fights and dealing with a whole range of other conflicts that break out among high school students. The adult mediators in the audience were struck by the maturity and poise of these students, and their obvious mastery of the fundamentals of the mediation process.
This program has become so entrenched in this particular school that students often try mediation before calling each other out into the schoolyard for a fight. But peer mediation can do more than reduce violence, reduce absenteeism, and lessen the need for suspensions and other more traditional forms of discipline. This system can also reach and deal with underlying causes of conflict that disciplinary programs often leave untouched.
Perhaps most importantly, peer mediation gets students thinking about conflict in a way that can usher in fundamental reforms in our whole system of justice. Peer mediation programs allow the next generation to explore more effective ways of dealing with violence, theft, slander, and other forms of inter-personal conflict than the authoritarian systems we have traditionally relied upon. Thus, the spread of peer mediation programs has potentially revolutionary potential. To achieve that potential, we don’t need to eliminate established disciplinary systems in the schools, or by extension, the criminal justice system in the world these students will graduate into. We merely have to offer an alternative.