Mediation and the Adversary Process
It’s important both to protect the best interests of children in conflict situations and to educate youngsters about how they too can resolve conflicts peacefully. Here is a quick, one-day lesson designed to introduce upper elementary students to nonadversial methods of conflict resolution.
Jody was sick and wouldn’t go on her paper route, so she asked Tony to do it for her. She agreed to pay him $2. Tony delivered the papers, but didn’t put plastic bags on them. It rained and the papers were ruined. Jody refused to pay Tony the $2.
Explain to students that they will experience two different methods of resolving disputes: the adversarial process of the court, and the mediation process, which takes place in neighborhood justice centers in cities throughout the country. Divide the class into groups. Explain that the groups will first role play a case using the adversary model. One person in each group should play the plaintiff, a second the defendant, and a third the judge. Explain the court procedure as follows:
- Judge asks plaintiff to give his side of the story.
- Defendant then gives his side of the story.
- Judge can ask questions, during and/or after hearing from the parties.
- Judge makes a decision and delivers it.
Conduct simultaneous role plays. They should last about 10 minutes. Then with the entire group ask the following questions:
- Was the role of judge difficult? What did they like or dislike about being judges?
- Did the plaintiff and defendant think they were treated fairly? How did they feel about the judge’s decision?
Mediation in Action
Explain that students will next mediate the same case. Allow at least 15 minutes for this role play. The judge will become the mediator, and plaintiff and defendant will now be called the disputants. Have the plaintiff and defendant switch roles from the first role play. Explain that the mediator does not make a decision in the case. His/her role is to help the disputants reach an agreement. This procedure is as follows:
- Mediator explains that in mediation the two parties will make their own agreement. They must not interrupt each other. If the need arises, the mediator will talk to each part separately.
- The mediator asks each disputant to define the problem as he or she sees it and express feelings about it.
- Each disputant defines the problem and expresses feelings about it.
- The mediator restates views of both disputants. The mediator asks questions to clarify issues.
- The mediator asks disputant #1 if he or she has a proposed solution for the problem. The mediator then asks disputant #2 if he or she agrees. If not, the mediator asks disputant #2 for a proposed solution and asks disputant #1 if he/she agrees.
- If there is an agreement, the mediator restates the agreement to make sure both disputants approve.
- If no agreement is reached, the mediator talks to each disputant separately, asking each how he or she is willing to solve the problem. Then the mediator brings them together and asks them to offer their solutions. The mediator will repeat step six if an agreement is reached.
After the allotted time, bring the class back together and debrief with the following questions.
- How did being a mediator compare with being a judge? Was it easier or more difficult?
- Did disputants think they were treated fairly? How did they feel about the process?
- Was a solution reached? How did it compare to the judge’s decision?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each method of dispute resolution? What kinds of conflicts are best suited for each method?
This strategy was written by Melinda Smith, Director of the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution. It is adapted from the ABA publication Sure Fire Presentations.
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