young children discuss conflict

david knowles kennedy

Abstract


If there is one constant, uninvited guest in the typical public school classroom—or indeed in any setting in which children gather in numbers—it is conflict. The transcripts from which I draw in this reflection on how young children think together about conflict reflect two four-part sets of conversations with two second grades in a small school of roughly 300 students in a predominantly middle to upper middle class suburban town in a heavily populated metropolitan area in the northeastern U.S. Most of the examples of conflict which the second graders chose to offer were located in their lives with friends or acquaintances or siblings, or incidents among adults that they had witnessed. There seemed to be a level of tolerance, even expectation and affirmation of these small conflicts in their lives; they had already become relatively “natural” occurrences for them. Large sections from four of the transcripts are included here, with commentary. In the first, conflict is represented by the group as a competition, either between two people or two possibilities only one of which can be fulfilled (the “fork in the road”). There is disagreement as to whether interpersonal conflict can be avoided. The second section revolves around the reorganizational or reconstructive potential of conflict. The third section takes up the question of whether we can say that there is conflict within nature beyond just living things — i.e. whether conflict can be considered a metaphysical or at least ontological principle. Transcript and analysis of arguments are accompanied by reflections on the differing social atmospheres of the two classes, their possible relationships to the discussion styles of the two, and on the possibility of a form of pedagogy which allows for the self-organizing character of group life and the role of conflict in the dialectics of development.

Keywords


Conflict; Young children; Conversation; Dialogue; Classroom

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e-issn 1984-5987 | p-issn 2525-5061