A FEAR of rising violence has driven 90 Nova Scotia schools to join the League of Peaceful Schools, an organisation dedicated to finding ways to stop violence and bullying.
The move follows a doubling of the number of 12 to 17-year-olds charged with violent offences in the province between 1986 and 1994.
The league was instigated by Hetty Adams, a former principal, a year after her 14-year-old son was killed in a violent school incident in 1991. It was founded last year by the Pearson International Peace-keeping Institute, the Halifax Board of Education and grocery chain Sobeys Inc.
Its philosophy is based on the belief that traditional punishments do not stop disruptive behaviour or defuse the kind of tensions that exploded into a race riot at Cole Harbour High School, Halifax, last autumn.
The theory is that punishment can drive bullying underground, where it can become so insidious that it is almost impossible to pinpoint. Throwing children out of school for five days does nothing but provide time for a situation to fester, Ms Adams says.
League schools work at the grass-roots level. The institute teaches student mediators how to analyse a situation, how to help both sides come to an understanding of the other's position and how to help them find a solution that recognises the interests of everyone involved.
Mediation works, Ms Adams argues, because it is voluntary. Mediators do not pass judgment or allocate blame. And the mediation sessions are confidential.
Tom Rich, a programme director at the department of education and culture, says the ministry believes six to eight-year-olds who learn these "lessons in living" will be less likely to use conflict to resolve disputes when they are 16 or 17.