SABONA – from the Kindergarten to world politics

By Johan Galtung

Kongsvinger is a small town in Eastern Norway, close to Sweden, with a small dedicated group working in kindergartens, elementary and more advanced schools to convey conflict and social skills to children from one to twelve years old. Recently they presented their experiences for a very grateful audience of children, teachers and parents.

Enters a teddy-bear, a key ‘person’. Child 1 grabs the bear and beats Child 2 shouting, “He is mine!” The teacher reports: “Of course I could scold, saying beating is not allowed. But that is not good enough.” So I said, “He is neither his nor yours, but the kindergarten’s. You wanted to hug him? OK, but no beating. You could have asked”.

Next time that would be the chosen means for the “bear in my arms” goal.

Another child had left some cute stuffed animals on the bathroom counter. Then the bell rang. They all left, except that child, standing by the door, crying deeply and loudly. The teacher reports: “Of course I could have said that ‘big children like you don’t cry’ but that wouldn’t have been good enough”. So I simply asked, “Tell me, what is the matter?” “The animals are lonely, nobody cares for them!” was the reply.

Small stories for most people; big for the children. Again and again teachers train them. Children do something negative, unacceptable, irritating. Ask why, what do you want, your goal? And then you may question the goal, modify it. And suggest a better means. To hug the bear is a totally acceptable goal, but asking for it is a far better means than beating. To care for the lonely animals is not only acceptable but beautiful, but words are a better means of communicating than tears. But which words? The teacher has to suggest them, complete sentences, repeat. Social skills are also verbal skills, and children are not born with them.

Purpose? To question the goals: are they acceptable? To question the means: could there be better means? After some time the new skills stick. Simply scolding leaves them without alternatives.

Elisabeth, a teacher in the kindergarten, made a study of child conflicts and found that they were essentially of six types:

* A child wants to have a toy alone;

* A child takes a toy from others;

* A child does not wait for his/her turn, sneaking in the line;

* A child wants to decide alone what and how they all shall play;

* Disagreement about what and how they shall play.

* A child is excluded from playing.

These are conflicts: at least two clashing goals are involved, beyond the acceptability of goals and adequacy of means. Solutions?

Putting the teddy-bear with a K label, for Kindergarten, hanging around the neck in the center, singing together for him; he is ours, we are his. Children besoul such tools whereas adults desoul “strangers”, enemies.

Letting the teddy-bear rotate, each child waiting for his/her turn.

Listing games to play, learning to argue, maybe agree to play all, during the day, or the week, taking decisions seriously. Taking great care that nobody is excluded asking, with care, why?

Togetherness around the toy, sharing, rotating. Skills to learn.

Presently Japan and China have some teddy-bears in the China or the Eastern Sea, both shouting “Mine!”, showing off arms, guns; not fists. Had they been to the Kongsvinger kindergarten at some early age they would have agreed on a label–East Asia Community-EAC–assigned to the islands, ours, enjoying them jointly; zones, ocean floor, all of it. Caring for them jointly as they are lonely, uninhabited. Or rotation, five years for each? But Kongsvinger hadn’t arrived yet.

A mom gives her girl a beauty-kit with two mirrors tied together; she shows it off but one day breaks it, separating the two mirrors. The teacher asks, “But why?” She answers proudly: “Sharing. One mirror for mom, one for me”. Can be discussed, but not even that approach has arrived in Beijing-Tokyo. Comparing these kindergarten kids with geopolitics is an insult to the kids.

Rector Knut of the elementary school: “Bullying has gone down; the children learn what their conflicts are about, clashing goals, and help design ways out. But free from bullying our school is not. Nor is that the objective. The aim is to know how to handle bullying positively, learning from it, making the bully devise better means-goal relations, making the bullee understand, help. To bring bullies to me for the ultimate threat, expulsion, is good for nothing.”

The children seem to take to it like geese to water, swimming. Adults need time: their preoccupation seems to be about who is right, who should be punished, who should come out on top, who wins, who loses.

Some global bullies invented a new play: the nuclear game. One child had the monopoly for some time, refusing to give it up to that big kindergarten called the UN. Then other children came, more and more. What to do? Give all the weapons to the UN for destruction and then celebrate their demise from earth. How about rotation, sharing; now it is Iran’s turn (like the Soviets’ turn to have nuclear missiles next to the other superpower). Very bad idea, but pedagogically useful, teaching the Kantian “Have only those arms that you would accept others to have”.

Children understand Kant immediately as simple justice; but they have to be told, they have to clothe it in words. Adults learn Kant but the teaching enters and exits. There have to be concrete cases, in weekly hours for social and conflict skills. What do I want, what does he want, are our goals reasonable? If yes, how can we meet both of them? Try it out; if it works fine, look at the goals again. They even have a tool, the sorting mat: walking four fields and telling their dream wishes for the future, what actually happens, good memories, and their nightmares. When the parents quarrel some kids would say: “Mom and dad, I see a solution.” Well, it is to be seen if the skills stick, for adult life.

Maybe geopolitical kids could pick up better toys than missiles, rocket shields, speculation? How about the conflict resolution game? What do kids like USA, Israel, Syria, Iran, China, Russia want, by what means? Walking the sorting mat in search for acceptable, sustainable solutions would be a much better game to play; with no one excluded.

Please see: SABONA: Searching for the Good Solutions-Learning Solving Conflicts, TRANSCEND University Press, 2011.

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