Intractable conflicts are difficult to view objectively. Clashing parties build up grievances that are rooted in vastly differing perspectives. The result is usually a bewildering tangle of facts, values, morals, and needs keeping each of the parties narrowly focused on their opposing positions. The first step to breaking down the complexity of contentious issues is to determine if the conflict is primarily one over facts or values.

Breaking a conflict into facts and values helps students make sense of the types of perspectives that drive conflicts. This is useful not only as an entry point to conflict analysis, but also as an essential research skill. Learning the distinctions between facts, values, and opinions will help students evaluate their sources more objectively.

Note: The simulation concerning whaling is summarized based on information gathered on the Internet websites. While most positions and arguments were taken from the websites that were listed, a few arguments were inferred. I did not find any sites describing outright the Inupiat stand on the Japanese right to whale. However, I did find several articles commenting on the occasional collaboration between the Japanese and Inupiat representatives.

Background Reading For Teachers:


  • Students will reflect upon their own values and identity.
  • Students will be able to differentiate between facts and values.
  • Students will be able to analyze why value-based conflicts are likely to be intractable.

McRel Standards:

  • Behavioral Studies
    Standard 1 (Level III. 2, 5) Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior.
    Standard 2 (Level III. 1) Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function
  • Language Arts
    Standard 1 (Level III. 6) Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
    Standard 5 (Level III. 1, 6) Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
    Standard 8 (Level III. 3, 8) Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
  • Life Skills, Thinking and Reasoning
    Standard 1 (Level IV. 4) Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument


Procedure: 3 hours

How do values shape conflicts? (hour 1)

  1. Write on the board: Who are you?
  2. Ask students to trace an outline of one hand on a piece of paper. Offer them lots of pictures and 30 minutes for them to make a dazzling Hand Poster symbolizing their identity. Prompt them with questions like:Who are you? How would you define yourself? What are your values? What shapes you?
  3. Ask students to share their hand posters. As identity categories and values surface, write them on the board (for instance: religion, nationality, political affiliation/beliefs etc.)
  4. Read "Distinguishing Facts from Values" by Norman Schultz and complete the worksheet.

    Homework: Finish the worksheet for "Distinguishing Facts from Values" if you didn't complete it during class.

How do values shape conflicts? (hour 2)

  1. Begin class with ten minutes of silent writing.
    Prompt: In your conflict journal, write about a value that you feel is part of who you are. For example: "Killing other people is wrong." Explain why you believe that and if anything would make you change that belief.
  2. Ask for volunteers to share and discuss their journal entries.
  3. Cut up the Facts vs. Values Scenarios worksheet and let students pick one scenario per pair. Give them three minutes to prepare a skit, and then ask each group to present. After each presentation, discuss whether the skit demonstrated a conflict about values, facts, or both.
  4. Ask students to continue working in pairs. Write: "Iraq: an invasion fueled by values or facts?" Explain that often conflicts involve both. Ask the pairs to use their journals to brainstorm together and to put facts on one page and values on the second, drawing on their own knowledge of the situation.
  5. Discuss the ideas generated in pairs together as a class.

How do values shape conflicts? (hour 3)

  1. Split students into four groups and give each group one of the Identities in the whale simulation. Ask students to read through the information provided on their information cards. Then ask them to fill out the Simulation Guide in their groups.
  2. Next, arrange students into a circle and hold a debate around the question: Should Japan's four fishing towns be allowed to hold small-scale commercial whale hunts? At the end of the discussion hold a vote.
  3. After the discussion, ask students to reflect upon the following questions in their journals: Did everyone vote the same way? What did you do to try to convince the other groups to side with your perspective? How well did your tactics work? 

    Homework: Write an essay answering the following question: Why are value-based conflicts more likely to be intractable than facts-based conflicts? You can use evidence from the classroom discussion to support your argument. Use Vermont's Report Rubric as a guide.

Robert Gardner is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado, where he works as a research assistant at the Conflict Research Consortium. He has been working for several years on the Environmental Framing Consortium project on Framing of Intractable Environmental Disputes.