Guidance For Every Child: Teaching Young Children To Manage Conflict, by Dan Gartrell
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Consortium Book Sales & Distribution. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. There is undoubtedly a great deal of insight in this book on how children can learn to resolve conflict, and how adults can learn to resolve conflict as well. Given my own personal experiences and upbringing, I found this book rather sad in terms of its discourses on the longstanding difficulties that result from early childhood trauma, and as someone who had no pre-school and not very much in the way of daycare, I have to say that I did not experience the sort of instruction that was found in this book in my own learning. Yet combined with that sense of loss at what could have been, I was also filled with a great deal of outrage at the hypocrisy of the author in thinking that he and his fellow educators do a better job nowadays at avoiding conflict with parents and avoiding the unseemly indoctrination of earlier days, as this book is a study in well-meaning hypocrisy. If you have a great deal of criticism for contemporary trends in education , there is likely much that you will have against this book as well.
At its heart, this book tries to present the best face of progressive education. Even the chapter titles and the contents of the book give a picture of the sort of blinkered worldview of the author and his soaring idealism about the nobility of the sort of education he wants to encourage others to practice. After an introduction the author comments on how challenging children come from challenged backgrounds, and then gives seven guidance practices for how children can be calmed down and encouraged to deal kindly with others. The author urges the creation of an encouraging learning environment for every child, and wishes for early childhood teachers to work with families on behalf of the children they teach. A chapter on conducting group meetings to teach children how to deal with life in a democracy follows, before the author discusses on how teachers need to calm everyone in situations of conflict, including themselves. Chapters on teaching children how to manage conflict through guidance talks and mediation precede a closing chapter on the practice of liberation teaching. After this the book contains some appendices and the usual indices and sources.
At the heart of the author’s approach is an inability to recognize that education has not progressed to the extent that the author wishes to present. For one, while the author is quick to pile on the bad old days of physical discipline of miscreant children and efforts to indoctrinate children that set up conflict with parents, the author seems unwilling to recognize that contemporary schools engage in plenty of indoctrination as well concerning immorality, and that this too sets up plenty of conflict with God-fearing families. Even the author’s insistence on calming and placating people fails to account for the fact that sometimes there needs to be genuine outrage, especially at evil, and that there are some people who do not want to play nice with others. The author’s worldview seems ill-equipped to handle this sort of genuine evil in the world. Even with these flaws, though, this book still presents some worthwhile insights on how to resolve conflicts when we are dealing with people, young or old, who want to get along but lack the skills on how to do it peacefully, and point out that a lack of trust and safety in one’s early childhood can have extremely damaging consequences long-term. Some of us, alas, know this all too well by personal experience.
 See, for example: