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Workable Peace
Curriculum Materials and Resources for Conflict Resolution

The organization Workable Peace has been helping teachers and students learn new ways to explore conflict and crisis for many years. Two curriculum units, one developed specifically in light of the events of September 11 and another existing unit, have both been used successfully by teachers to address current events.

The theory behind the curricula

Workable Peace is built on 25 years of theory and practice in the field of conflict resolution. It merges two key elements of conflict resolution into its educational programs. The first is an interest-based approach to negotiation that teaches negotiators to achieve joint gains by in-depth preparation, building on shared interests, making wise tradeoffs, and using objective criteria to create universally fair agreements. The second element is a social-psychological approach to managing intergroup conflict. This approach advocates exploring each group's core needs and fears without assigning blame while acknowledging each other's concerns and limiting the use of violence. These steps set a clear and positive framework for negotiation and help rebuild trust between antagonists.

Goal #1: Teaching history in a new way

Workable Peace has two primary goals. The first is to encourage students to look at conflicts in history not only as a series of wars, but also as moments when leaders had a range of choices for meeting their groups' needs. Workable Peace challenges students to ask the questions: What are the core sources of this conflict? What strategies were used to resolve it? Were other strategies possible? What might have happened if these strategies were used instead? What lessons can we learn by comparing what did happen with what might have happened? To drive these questions home and make them relevant for students, Workable Peace uses interactive exercises and role plays based on historical events as its primary teaching tools.

Goal #2: Equipping students with conflict resolution skills

The second goal is to equip students with the skills they need to deal with conflict in their own lives. Conflict analysis frameworks help them differentiate the interests, values, emotions, and identities of groups in conflict. Perspective-taking exercises teach students how to observe the world from different vantage points. Through role play, students learn to use negotiation skills to deal with opposing interests, and to address underlying grievances that have perpetuated the conflict.

A forum for discussing 9/11

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, left most Americans asking difficult questions: How should the United States respond? What kind of diplomatic or military action should we take? What kind of policies should we put in place? How can we protect ourselves as a nation from terrorism?

Workable Peace developed a curriculum for high school history teachers to explore in the classroom questions arising out of these emotionally charged events. While it does not endorse a single point of view nor give a single answer, the Workable Peace 9/11 Curriculum does provide a framework for discussing important and controversial topics related to terrorism.

9/11 curriculum outline

The question
What's next in the war on terrorism?

Setting the stage
Before addressing this question, Workable Peace provides some historical context, summarizing the first phase of the U.S. response in Afghanistan. In examining possible next steps, Iraq has been identified as a country that actively supports terrorism, and it is used as an example in this activity. Background information and a brief history are provided to set the stage.

What should the United States do?
In helping high school students negotiate this topic, Workable Peace offers two perspectives:

  • The United States should take military action against other countries that may be harboring terrorists when it is in the U.S. national interest.
  • The United States should not take military action against other countries but should instead focus on addressing the underlying causes of terrorism.

Students are asked to research each perspective by reading two primary sources that support each perspective. They are then asked to identify the interests, values, emotions, and identities behind each opinion. By comparing these, the sources of conflict are revealed and misperceptions are addressed.

Resolving conflicts
After the conflict analysis, students decide which viewpoint is closest to their own. Then they compare their interests, values, emotions, and identities with someone who has the opposing viewpoint. By comparing, they can see where differences and similarities lie. "They realize that there is not just one point of view and one truth. There are multiple perspectives and many truths. Some of these truths contradict each other, and some fit together." (Stacie Smith, Workable Peace director) This allows them to identify points of conflict and work toward a resolution.

Response from teachers

After creating the 9/11 Curriculum, Workable Peace conducted a teacher-training session where teachers worked through the activities. Each teacher chose the perspective that they felt best represented their opinion. Approaching the conflict from their own perspectives made the debate more realistic. It also gave the opposing view the voice and face of a respected peer. Teachers remarked that when hearing an opposing view on the radio, their initial reaction was often negative and unconstructive. By being able to discuss the issues with other teachers, however, the participants felt like they were having a meaningful dialogue, even if they did not agree. They could ask each other questions like What does that mean to you? Why do you think that? Many teachers had been reluctant to bring up questions about U.S. policy on terrorism because they were not familiar with current policy, but by using the Workable Peace curriculum, teachers became immersed in the issues and walked away with the knowledge and confidence they needed to introduce the topic to their students.

Hebron negotiations curriculum unit

Workable Peace has another curriculum unit focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This can be used to give students a wider historical context for understanding the September 11 attacks. Sue Curtin, a recently retired teacher from Concord Middle School in Massachusetts, used this curriculum unit as part of her teaching about the Middle East. It covered essential history content requirements and taught general skills such as preparation, careful listening, and effective note taking.

The unit was popular with her students because it allowed them to be active negotiators. By simulating negotiations over the future status of the West Bank city of Hebron, students began thinking about negotiating rather than debating to resolve conflicts. Negotiations challenged students to devise a "win-win" situation, whereas debates designated a winner and loser. By the end of the unit, the students developed an understanding of how this distinction applies to problem solving.

After the negotiations, the students drafted a peace agreement. While they did not resolve every issue that surfaced, the process of working through the conflicts in a constructive manner was very valuable. "I think it's important for teachers not to feel discouraged if the kids do not come out with peace agreements for all the issues. Kids will continue to be interested in these topics, and they may end up playing some real role in similar issues. They still learn a great deal." (Sue Curtin, Concord Middle School)

Hebron negotiations curriculum outline

The issues
Land, security, and border control

Setting the stage
Before addressing these issues, Workable Peace offers some historical context. Background information and a brief history about the Zionist movement, the Palestinian people, the creation of the state of Israel, and the struggle over control of Palestine are provided.

Key players

  • Israeli Delegation: Israeli military officer in charge of Hebron, Israeli government representative, representative of Israeli settlers in Hebron
  • Palestinian Delegation: Palestinian Authority official in charge of Hebron civil government, Palestinian chief of Hebron police, Hamas supporter
  • International facilitator

For more information on these curriculum units and more, visit the Workable Peace Web site.

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