The Daily Journal legal newspaper reported last week on a 10th-grade history class exercise that put students in the roles of Benjamin Franklin and Britain's Frederick North at the time of the American Revolution. Amazingly, it appears that by applying simple alternative-dispute-resolution techniques, the students were able to easily avert one of the major conflicts of world history. The setting was a hypothetical trip by Franklin to Britain for negotiations. Here's how simple it apparently was:
North: Welcome to Britain. I hope we can work together to try to meet the interests of both sides.
Franklin: Thank you. As a British-American colony, we have a problem with the heavy taxing the British government has been placing on us as of late.
North: You need to understand, we must pay off our war debts.
Franklin: I understand that war is very costly, but the concern we have is, if you are going to tax us, at least we should get some representation in the British government. Also, having your troops here is an invasion of our privacy. We have to feed and clothe them, and our economy is suffering.
Of course, here's how that meeting really would have gone:
North: Welcome to Britain. You are under arrest.
But maybe that's just my cynicism talking. The teenagers were able to resolve all of the parties' disputes and to do it before class let out for the day, and they were shaking hands by the end of the day instead of shooting up the lunchroom, so maybe there is something to this alternative-dispute-resolution business. Maybe we should send these 10th-graders over to work things out between the Sunnis and Shiites. Can't do any harm at this point.
(Daily Journal, Friday, Mar. 9, 2007.)