Dispute Resolution: Rights in Conflict
The Case of the Professional Tap Dancer
The resource person should begin by reading the following situation to the children.
Rights in Conflict
Harry and Bill lived in an apartment building. Harry’s apartment was directly above Bill’s. They were pretty good friends. Sometimes they went bowling together. Their friendship ended when Harry decided to become a professional tap dancer.
“I don’t have anything against tap dancers, Harry,” Bill said. “But do you have to practice every evening. The noise is driving me crazy. I can’t sleep.”
“Sorry,” said Harry. “But I have to practice if I’m going to be a pro. Besides it’s a free country, and I can do whatever I want in my own home. My home is my castle, as they say.”
“Sure,” said Bill. “But what about my rights? You’re disturbing the peace. My peace.”
Harry and Bill have a problem. Their rights are in conflict. Conflicts are a natural part of human relationships. Everyone gets into fights or arguments once in a while. Sometimes people can resolve their conflicts but sometimes they cannot. A third person can often help to resolve the conflict between two people. That person has to be someone who can see both sides of the argument and come up with the solution that’s fair to both people. In a court that “third person” is a judge.
Sorting It Out
The resource person can then help youngsters think clearly about the situation. Ask them to:
- Identify the problem;
- State some possible solutions;
- Consider the consequences of each solution;
- Make a decision that is legal and fair to all.
In this case, what are the two rights that are in conflict?
- Harry’s right to practice his profession in his own home. Many people do this.
- Bill’s right to have peace and quiet in his own home. People have a right to reasonable amount of quiet in their home.
There are many ways to resolve this conflict and some solutions are better than others because they are fairer to the people involved.
Use a role play to state these points. Tell half the class to pretend to be Bill and the other half to be Harry. Lead a general discussion, calling on Bills and Harrys. (For older children you can have them pair up and try to resolve the problem in a way that satisfies both parties.)
Sometimes the class comes up with some interesting solutions, such as carpeting Bill’s ceiling or having them switch apartments. It is important to encourage children to try to resolve conflicts initially without third party intervention. The court should not be seen as a first resort for dispute resolution.
Or you can present solutions and ask the children to decide if they are fair.
This problem can also be used to discuss the basic point that “there should be rules made in advance and fair procedures to enforce them.” There was no rule in this apartment against tap dancing. Would it be fair for the landlord to make one after Harry started tapping? What if there was a rule against pets and Bill got a huge dog that barked every time Harry tapped? What about Bill’s right to a certain amount of peace and quiet? How can this be balanced with Harry’s right to practice his profession?
Encourage children to discuss why it is important to know the rules ahead of time. Ask them about games they play and the rules for them. What happens if someone breaks or changes a rule?
This strategy, by the late Arlene Gallagher, is adapted from Living Together Under the Law: An Elementary Education Law Guide, published by the Law Youth and Citizenship Program of the New York State Bar Association and the New York State Department of Education in 1982.