The Role of Conflict/Conflict Resolution in Anti-Racism Education Curriculum

By Gary Pieters, OISE/UT

May 4, 2000

The purpose of this essay is to examine the role of conflict and conflict resolution in antiracism education curriculum in school settings. The role of explicit antiracist curriculum in facilitating questioning, talk back, rethinking, positive conflict, and re-evaluating, are important conditions in teaching for equity and social justice. The impact of how the curriculum is used will also be analysed and explored throughout this paper. This examination of anti-racist education curriculum in the context of conflict/conflict resolution is a very broad area of study. With this in mind I am hoping to narrow the scope of inquiry to review and analyze some of the existing initiatives, and schools of thought within the Canadian context.

The use of past and current academic and scholarly research literature will be used to uncover the impact of initiatives and their solutions in antiracist education curriculum.

Within the body of this essay, there will be a definition of the key issues around antiracism education, conflict and conflict resolution. The essay will examine these issues from a sociological. The goal is to uncover whether the interests of all students are better served when the focus is on anti-racist education in classrooms and school settings.

This analysis of the body of evidence presented in this essay will provide a systemic understanding of antiracist education theory and practice in conflict and conflict resolution with an emphasis on what would one see in a school setting where anti-racism curriculum is practices. Areas of attention in this area of the research will include the impact of such practices on inclusion and the educational environment of students.

As Toronto and Canada continuously undergo change in the racial and ethnic demographics of its citizenry, the social geography also undergoes transformation. This fact has and continues to influence how schools and educators plan and deliver curriculum to students. The opportunities and challenges of this changing social geography mean that new initiatives have and continue to be implemented to respond to the changing needs of educating Canadian students [Cheng et. al. 1994, p.i]. It is the position of anti-racist educators that anti-racist education is subsumed under an inclusive curriculum which looks at people's social identity as multi-dimensional based on race, gender, class, age, ability/disability, and sexual orientation [Cheng 1994, p.6].

One of the initiatives that attempt to address the changing needs of Canadian educational system is antiracism education. Antiracism education curriculum is not in and of itself distinct rather, it is an evolution from other initiatives that were implemented, some of which achieved limited success or support in Canada. One of the initiatives which anti-racism education builds upon is ‘multicultural education. Multicultural education and its interpretation in the Canadian context have emerged as an accommodation of the changing demographics of society and the school system. In 1988, the Government of Canada implemented the Canada Multiculturalism Act, which states the following,

The Government of Canada recognises the diversity of Canadians as regards to race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion, as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society and is committed to a policy of multiculturalism designed to preserve and enhance the multicultural heritage of Canadians while working to achieve the equality of all Canadians in the economic, social, cultural and political life of Canada...[CMA 1988].

Anti-racist educators believe that in order for ?students to be adequately prepared for adult life as effective citizens in a multicultural and global society, they need anti-racist education [Cheng et. al. 1994, p. 6].

Multicultural education in Toronto has encountered harsh criticism and reservations because of its inability to better serve all students. The definition of multicultural education is as multifaceted as it is confusing. Consequently, there is a strong body of opinion, which provide alternatives to multicultural education. In framing the issues for reforming multicultural education, it is argued that A rigorous multiculturalism should engage children in a critique of the roots of inequality in curriculum, school structure, and the larger society [Lee 1985].

It can be argued argues that antiracist education is a perspective that permeates all subject areas and school practices. Its aim is the eradication of racism in all its various forms [Cheng et. al. 1994, p.i].

Anti-racism education curriculum is more or less a move towards inclusive curriculum and was conceived with this in mind. The objectives are to ensure that all students would be represented and have a voice. It is argued that there is greater likelihood of engagement when the curriculum content reflects an inclusive perspective. Accordingly, there is a strong body of opinion among antiracist educators that, the intent of anti-racist and ethnocultural equity education is to ensure that all students achieve their potential and acquire accurate knowledge and information as well as confidence in their cultural and racial identities. It should equip all students with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to live and work effectively in an increasingly diverse world and encourage them to appreciate diversity and reject discriminatory attitudes and behaviour [Cheng et. al 1994].

Multiculturalism is perceived as providing mild support for equity programs. It tends to focus on racism as isolated incidents and is often perceived as Eurocentric in focus. The approach in this initiative provides limited opportunities for “eliciting or “prescribing conflict knowledge, skills and processes. Lederach in his perspective on culture in conflict resolution believes that accommodation is not always, how inclusion works because sometimes accommodation is practised in a condescending manner. He alluded to elements of conflict, cultural wisdom and those that help mediate the process [Lederach 1991, P.3].

One of the other concerns around multicultural education was that its purpose “generally targets white students and teachers, rather than all students and teachers [Alladin 1996, p. 162]. This has been a source of negative conflict and Canadian antiracist/human rights educators as well as the wider community questioned its efficacy.

It has been argued that; a conflict exists whenever incompatible activities occur. It is however, a natural and normal feature of human interaction and can lead to growth, progress and change [Brown et. al. 1996, p. 1]. It is further argued that “as long as we avoid and deny conflict, we will not address its fundamental causes?[Duryea 1992, p. 16].

Conflict and conflict resolution is a significant process in antiracist curriculum content, instructional pedagogy and instructional choices. Within this paper it is argued that, conflict resolution is a process which structures a conflict in order to maximize the positive, constructive potential of conflict and prevent and/or minimize the negative, destructive effects. Conflict resolution is not an attempt to eliminate conflict; rather, it is a process for approaching and managing it to achieve maximum benefit for all [Brown et. al. 1996, p. 1].

From the research and definitions, it is clear that anti-racist education curriculum involves elements of conflict and conflict resolution. Antiracist education curriculum is directed towards transformative learning, constructivism and critical pedagogy. The implementation of explicit antiracist education curriculum in schools is designed to bring to fruition the reality that schools are enmeshed in as the demographic and cultural norms undergo drastic change to a more diverse society. Educators can and do make a difference in implementing explicit antiracist education curriculum that provide students with meaningful everyday opportunities to deal with controversial issues and topics in the classroom in a manner that meets the learning needs of all students. As Cheng et. al. points out, an anti-racist curriculum examines explicitly the issues of power and equality; helps students recognize stereotypes and prejudice; treats the majority group perspective as an equal of other ethnic perspectives; helps students develop a respect for differences; recognizes the contributions of all groups; and bolsters minority students' self-esteem [Cheng et. al. 1994].

The ability of the curriculum to meet the needs of all students was and still is a factor in how and what is taught in the classroom and school. It creates conflict and attempts to resolve other sources of conflict in the curriculum. A Canadian sociologist, George Dei termed the negative practice of exclusion in the curriculum as a process, which results in students 'disengagement from learning' [Dei 1995]. Noguera’s position is that such an outcome emerged from a system that fosters alienation and is the source of systemic violence [ Noguera 1995, p. 3]. Like Noguera, Epp’s position emphasized the fact that "systemic violence is carried out through a progression of assumptions that begin with a belief that it is possible to standardize students ability and students expectations" [Epp et. al., 1996, p.21]. Conflict and conflict resolution in antiracism education curriculum is designed to address disengagement and systemic violence by reversing this trend among students who do not see their real life experiences or themselves reflected in the pedagogical and curriculum materials.

Dei’s field research in Toronto area schools, produced findings which provides a vivid and stark understanding of the effects of systemic violence on black youth in the education system in Toronto. His findings on disengagement has far reaching implications for the future. His findings revealed that, "it is estimated that by the year 2000, one million uneducated, unskilled youth will enter the Canadian labour market. During 1991, a metropolitan board survey monitoring the progress of its African Canadian students concluded that 36% of black students were at risk of dropping out compared to 26% for whites and 18% for Asians" [Dei 1995, p.4].

The survey also revealed that 45% of black high school students were enrolled in basic and general level programs compared to 28% of the entire student body that were also placed on these two academic tracks [Dei 1995, p.4].

A subsequent 1993 study following the progress of high school black students enrolled in the board in 1987 showed that by 1991, 42% of black students dropped out compared to 33% of the entire student body [Dei 1995, p.4].

Addressing sources of conflict in the curriculum that leads to disengagement is at the heart of antiracism education. It addresses what teachers teach and how they teach. The planning and delivery of curriculum have broad implications beyond the classroom. Various elements of conflict and conflict resolution can be viewed through the initiation, implementation and evaluation of antiracism curriculum.

These areas are mentioned because they have the potential of creating new ways of analyzing the role of conflict and conflict resolution in antiracist pedagogy. The length of this paper will make it not possible for in-depth exploration of these areas of curriculum.

However, in reviewing Noguera and Epp contributions on systemic violence, Dei’s findings provide a window on the issues and concerns at the heart of parent's dissatisfaction with the a non antiracist, eurocentric curriculum. Strategies are strongly recommended to promote equity and social justice for all students in the education system. As well, teachers are encouraged to design and deliver lessons that engage and foster learning for all students while validating their prior knowledge and life experiences. Epp points out that conflict emerges because of common concerns around issues of alienation, insecurity and repression [Epp 1996, p.190]. Cheng et. al. argues that "by changing classroom procedures, teachers can remove some of the cultural barriers encountered by minority students in school. However, teachers must hold high expectations and value the culture and language of minority students in order to meet their needs and ensure that both equity and excellence are achieved" [Cheng et. al 1994, p.ii]

Dei's findings confirm Noguera argument that "systemic violence encourages disadvantaged students to disappear from the school system and from competition for economic success" [Noguera 1995, p.4]. Noguera’s research looked at practices and procedures that prevent students from learning, thus harming them [Noguera 1995, p. 1].

Classroom teachers play an important part in antiracism education and its role in raising and resolving conflicts in the school setting. The teacher in responding to these concerns requires some readiness in order to understand and resolve the conflicts, which are part of antiracist pedagogy. Readiness is also important in the professional development and knowledge acquisition of teachers because it is argued that within the large urban and suburban settings, many teachers do not know where their students are coming from [Noguera 1995]. As antiracist education advocates evaluate initiatives in the curriculum which fosters conflict and conflict resolution as a normal aspect of learning and developing critical thinking skills, new literature are emerging with pedagogical insights for educators. Rethinking Schools: Teaching for Equity and Justice provides educators with a myriad of life histories that other teachers used to foster students of diverse backgrounds ability to make connections with the curriculum, teaching and learning experiences. Issues including race, immigration, poverty, family traditions, the joys of daily events, standardization, human rights, respect and a host of other social issues are used to provide learning objectives and outcomes that empower all students [Rethinking Schools 1994].

Cheng et. al. argue that teachers need to acquire the skills to identify those books which are biased [Cheng et. al. 1994, p.18]. The Council on Interracial Books for Children, produced a publication which provides teachers with best practices for making all voices count in the teaching and learning process. In an article entitled “Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Sexism and Racism [Council on Interracial Books for Children 1980, p. 143-145], they encouraged teachers to make it a habit of doing the following:

Antiracist education plays a significant role in conflict and conflict resolution and has as its objectives, the desire for changing existing curricular, pedagogical and learning conditions for all students to promote equity and justice. It is believed that this will serve to reduce or even eliminate marginalization and foster success for all students [Henry 2000]. With these factors in mind, it is argued that anti-racism embodies the following principles: These habits of mind are of increasing importance and face the test of time as researchers and practitioners test the impact of the implementation of antiracism education on the educational setting [Henry 2000].

Consequently, antiracist education curriculum recognises that:

In the early 1990's, the Government of Ontario implemented a policy, which required the school districts to implement antiracism and ethnocultural guidelines at the district and school levels. Bill 21 was enacted into law as a mandated legislation, which make it compulsory that the boards have policies in place. This initiative by the provincial government is very recent and some school districts are still implementing policies to conform to this legislative requirement [Education Act, R.S.O. 1990, Chapter E.2, section 8, subsection 1, paragraph 29.1 (July 1992 edition) ].

Some antiracist education advocates lament that lack of commitment and support towards putting policy into practice is an obstacle to full equality in schools. This is an unresolved conflict in the argument for putting theory into practice in making antiracist education an explicit part of the curriculum thereby expanding its role in conflict and conflict resolution in the classroom, school and community settings.

Others, however, applauded the initiative by the government. Parents can now ask schools and school districts for their policy on antiracist education [Alladin 1996, p. 152].

The African Canadian communities are among the groups who welcomed this initiative. The is a strong body of opinion that students of African ancestry feel left out of the curriculum. There are questions about whether a Eurocentric curriculum is able to meet the needs of black students. Parents feel that it is important for black students to identify with the curriculum. It is always a stated and unstated belief within the teaching and learning community that students are more engaged and learn best in an environment that is safe and fosters respect and inclusion of all students.

bell hooks states the following, "Despite the contemporary focus on multiculturalism in our society, particularly in education, there is not nearly enough practical discussion of the ways classroom settings can be transformed so that the learning experience is inclusive?"[hooks 1994, p. 35].

In my own daily interactions with the current Ontario curriculum, there are many areas of the curriculum provide flexibility in teaching materials that have an antiracism perspective. The literature provides perspectives, issues and concerns about the role of antiracist education in conflict and conflict resolution.

Annette Henry in her article on teaching black students argues that an engaging antiracist education curriculum facilitates "exorcising the oppressor within". Henry further argues that "a liberatory education ?is the responsibility of all teachers and not of black teachers". Henry's research, which forms the basis of her article, was conducted in a Toronto elementary school and provided the real life perspectives of how conflict learned and unlearned from an anti-racist pedagogical perspective [Henry 1994, p.308].

It is certainly evident that the involvement of all teachers in this initiative provides all students with the opportunity to 'work across differences'. What happens in the classroom on a daily basis and students' interactions with the curriculum will make a difference in their ability to become active, involved and participatory citizens who are willing to challenge inequity ad injustice when confronted with these issues. Antiracist education curriculum benefits all students. Regardless of the type of instruction used or the level of the students abilities, this pedagogical practice fosters a safe and welcoming environment where every student feels respected and included.

Opffer argues that combining conflict resolution with other antiracist pedagogical training may in fact "diffuse and work across conflicts and tensions that balkanise the environment" [Opffer 1997, p. 47]. Opffer is a strong advocate of combining anti-racist pedagogical training with conflict resolution programs. Her work on peer mediation programs and its applicability to anti racism education is important.

Schools mirror society in the social attitudes that reflects society. Some of the social attitudes can be unlearned and antiracism education attempts to address the unlearning of racial prejudice. It is therefore important that teachers and administrators foster antiracism awareness amongst the school community in which they serve. This approach may in fact increase students ability to understand racism, challenge it and eliminate it from their school environments.

Within the Toronto District School Board, there have been surveys and research at the elementary and secondary levels to provide analysis of the efficacy of antiracist education and conflict across the school district. One of the schools wide initiative is the every student survey that is conducted annually up to 1997 by the school district to gauge the efficacy of the school environment and the school climate and tone. [Cheng 1996]

The Toronto District School Board "Anti-Racist Education Project: A Summary Report on the Extent of Implementation and Changes Found in Wards 11/12 Schools 1991-1994 to 1994-1995" was one of the first in Toronto that examined how school cultures can be made inclusive and transformed by collegial implementation of ant-racist education with appropriate support and follow up. According to the research, which covered families of school in west downtown Toronto, there were changes in the schools and school cultures that emerged from the implementation of antiracism education [Cheng et. al. 1996, p. 30].

According to the report, there were changes in:

It is certainly evident that anti-racist education curriculum and pedagogical practices can serve to reduce negative conflict and foster better school climates. This confirms the position of Opffer that collegiality and collaboration have been shown to improve teaching and working conditions for teachers and learning outcomes for students [Opffer 1997, p. 49]

The Toronto District School Board research on the results of the implementation of antiracist education in the above Wards are certainly worthy of follow up in the 21st century in light of recent data since the implementation of massive change in the education system. The changes in the school culture and practice of the school sites shows that explicit initiatives can and will continue to make a difference in conflict resolution and antiracism education. This practical demonstration of the ability of antiracist, inclusive to transform schools is one that shows antiracism education as a positive reality in some Toronto schools. Johnson et. al. Believes that the structure of schools make a difference in conflict resolution. Schools that practice co-operative learning and a commitment to conflict resolution show greater results in their implementation of antiracism education initiatives in classrooms and the school.

The curriculum is a multifaceted area and covers many dimensions. What is taught, how it is taught and the questioned and unquestioned assumptions are an important aspect of conflict and conflict resolution in antiracism education curriculum. Studies have concluded that while there are initiatives in place, there is more action that need to be taken in implementation. The author of a recent article on 'Racism in Canadian Education,' presents the position that, "an analysis of curriculum including the hidden curriculum, provides some insights into the ways in which schools marginalize minority students and either exclude or minimize their experiences, history and contributions to Canada" [Henry et. al., 2000, p. 231].

Henry also argues that: the Eurocentrism that permeates other texts and teaching materials have an impact on the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviour of both minority and mainstream students [Henry 2000, p. 233].

This has and continues to be a source of conflict. However, it is important to note that such literature that excludes can also be means of fostering discussions on inclusion. Some writers argue that the lack of antiracist inclusive curriculum is the key factor in black students' schooling and leads to chronic suspensions, absenteeism, and high dropout rates [Brathwaite et. al., p. 200]. Others are of the view that the exclusion can foster discussions on the missing pages in the story. As a researcher and practitioner in antiracist pedagogy, I encourage my students to look at situations from a variety of perspectives.

It is important to understand that curriculum has a variety of dimensions. Two of the most often researched aspects are the hidden and formal curriculum. According to Henry et. al,, the formal curriculum involves the, “content and processes of instruction, which are shaped by the selection of educational materials such as books and teaching aids [Henry 2000, p. 233].

The hidden curriculum, “includes educators personal values, their unquestioned assumptions and expectations, and the physical and social environment of the school" [Henry et. al., 2000, p. 233].

In recent years these areas have been expanded to included the following:

Within a school setting teachers are expected to reflect upon and assess their on attitudes, assumptions and values as the relate to people, places and things around us. They are expected to have an open mind, which allows for the worldview of the students and the life experiences they bring to the teaching and learning process. Teachers are expected to educate themselves on the issues, concerns and strategies that make real the opportunities for all students to learn and to feel safe, respected and validated by the curriculum, teaching and learning environment of the school and classroom.

The desire for antiracist education curriculum initiatives in resolving conflict around inclusion and exclusion is a direct consequence of "bias and exclusion in curriculum content." [Henry et. al., 2000 p. 234]

Antiracist education curriculum can help students to find productive ways to disagree rather than to avoid conflict. In my own practice, I encourage students to add or suggest alternatives to those that are presented to them. For example in a unit on Canadian Scientists, there was an absence of women and black scientists from the unit. Students were encouraged to research and add to the list that was presented to the class. As the unit progressed, names such as Roberta Bondar were added to the unit. By taking this approach, conflict was acknowledge and resolved to the learning benefit of the students and myself. This effort bargain in which explicit conflict occurs because of the non-impartial content of textbooks and curriculum materials require that teachers be as flexible and pragmatic in order for students to know that non-impartiality is frequent but resolvable. My awareness of the problem and willingness to encourage dialogue and solutions from the students was at the heart of antiracism teaching. The ability of the teacher to take leadership can make a difference in helping all students to feel empowered by the curriculum. In this respect, Ingersoll notes the following, "the amount of power held by teachers does indeed make a positive difference in how schools function; but the effect depends on the types of school activities over which teachers have influence and autonomy" [Ingersoll 1996, p. 160].

From the perspective of most researchers in this area of inquiry, “antiracist education is oppositional, therefore controversy is inevitable" [Alladin 1996, p. 160]. This area of inquiry has become an important part of the daily discourse on what is happening on a daily basis in the classroom. This area of interactions is important for engaging the process for addressing issues and concerns. It is in this context that is argued the antiracist education curriculum has become a new way of dealing with conflict and conflict resolution in the classroom and school settings.

Accordingly, it is the position of some experts in the field of antiracism education that, the antiracist educator does not intend for the system to continue to reproduce the social structure that it operates within. The purpose of this education is to influence social change [Alladin 1996, p. 162].

This process includes investigating and including the missing pages of our contemporary and early history. It has been noted that “until very recently, slavery in Canada, the treatment of Chinese Canadians and other Asian immigrants, and the story of the abuse of aboriginal children in residential schools were not part of the history taught in schools." [Henry 2000, p. 235] Yes these are certainly areas of discussions that can allow students to critically examine sources of power relations and influence discussions of social change.

Educators can use a variety of teaching and learning techniques that foster with students a critical understanding of ways in which conflict can be created and resolved in antiracism education curriculum. For example in the Ontario Curriculum, unit of studies which focused on Aboriginal explorers, students can be provided with the opportunity to critically examine the views of Christopher Columbus when he arrived in an Arawak Community in 1492. An excerpt from Columbus diary states the following,

They took all and gave all, such as they had, with good will, but it seemed to me that they were people very lacking in everything. They all get naked as their mothers bore them, and the women also, although I saw only one very young girl. They should be good servants and quick to learn, since I see that they very soon shall say all that is said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, for it appeared to me that they had no religious beliefs. [Banks 1997, p. 20]

In this context, it would be useful for students to examine students reflections from the perspective of Arawaks reading On the Trails of the Arawaks, by Fred Olson. This reading will help to balance the perspective and enable the students to have a full and honest picture of the Arawaks including the fact that the Arawaks had a religion and identity despite Columbus assumptions. [Olson 1974]

Certainly, it is evident that antiracist education should permeate the school and curriculum as it is beneficial for conflict resolution. Antiracism is a peaceful way of creating conflict and resolving conflict in schools and classroom. Teachers and students are presented with new ways that include multiple perspectives for examining things that influence their daily lives. The role of conflict and conflict resolution in antiracism education is significant. Antiracism education contributes to positive peace in interpersonal as well as intra-personal relationships, active and informed citizenship, justice and stewardship.


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Principals' Understanding of their Role as Leaders of Curriculum and Instruction

The Role of Conflict/Conflict Resolution in Anti-Racism Education Curriculum was prepared as part of the coursework requirements of SES1953: Teaching Conflict and Conflict Resolution - Politics and Practice at OISE/UT instructed by Dr. Bickmore. You are encouraged to use information from this website for research or publication with the expectation that you will acknowledge this author and/or the original sources where specified.

Gary Pieters is an experienced and accomplished educator and administrator with over 10 years of experience. Currently, Gary is the Vice-Principal at an elementary school in Toronto. Gary has also been active as a volunteer in the community for many years. Gary currently serves as co-chair of The Committee to Commemorate and Memorialize the Abolition of Slave Trades (CMAST). He has a wide interest in equity, diversity and human rights. Gary was appointed to the 2006-2007 Community Editorial Board of The Toronto Star where his focus, and editorial page columns has been highlighting the contributions of individuals from diverse communities to in Canadian history and institutions. Gary is also a member of the board of directors of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations [UARR].

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