Cooperation and conflict go hand-in-hand. Conflicts among group members are inevitable once cooperative learning is established in the classroom and faculty collegial support groups have been established in the school (see Chapter 10). The absence of conflict is often a sign of apathy and indifference, not harmony. The more group members care about achieving the group's goals and about each other, the more likely conflicts are to arise. Managed constructively, conflicts are an essential and valuable source of creativity, fun, higher-level reasoning, and effective decision making. Managed destructively, however, they are a source of divisiveness, anger, frustration, and failure. Students and faculty need to learn procedures for effectively managing conflicts and to become skillful in their use.
Students often have procedures for managing conflicts, but the procedures are not always constructive or shared among all classmates. One student may use physical violence, another may use verbal violence, another may withdraw, and a fourth may try to persuade. The presence of multiple procedures creates some chaos. This is especially evident with students from different cultural, ethnic, social class, and language backgrounds. Thus, it is important that all students (and staff members) learn to use the same set of conflict management procedures. Teaching these procedures involves establishing a cooperative context, showing students how to engage in academic controversies constructively, and establishing a peer mediation program in the classroom and school (see Johnson and Johnson 1989a, 1991b, 1992d).