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Learning to talk it over

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Most of us know the moment: We're making a point, maybe passionately. We're convinced of its merit; truth is on our side.

But we're greeted with silence, confusion, or even an angry comeback. The conversation we thought we were having breaks down.

It's a scene that's familiar from the dining-room table to the halls of international negotiations. It can be pretty hard to have a reasoned exchange when people strongly disagree - and when they're powerfully inclined to convert others, rather than simply help them understand a point of view.

That doesn't mean it's impossible. Most of us daily negotiate numerous exchanges, making difficult conversations work and sometimes moving them forward, even if it starts with something as basic as letting a friend finish his sentence.

But what if we started learning this a bit earlier? That's the goal of Workable Peace (see story, this page), a conflict-resolution program designed to help high-schoolers better understand the complexities of the world events they are studying.

Students sometimes see history as an inflexible series of events designed to dim their day with irrelevance. But what occurs when role-playing and negotiation skills, like those emphasized by Workable Peace, make them approach a problem a new way, or see how a different set of choices could have led to a different outcome? What happens when history starts to seem less predictable - or when time is carved out for discussion of current events that bear some striking parallels to what has gone before?

Maybe class just gets more lively. But at least a few students are likely to see their role in both present and future possibilities - local or global - quite differently.

E-mail newcomba@csmonitor.com.


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