Journalist Robert KoehlerUpdate: This column, which quotes IIRP President Ted Wachtel, was also picked up by the Huffington Post.

Award-winning Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer Robert Koehler posted this story at CommonDreams.org, discussing the need for restorative practices to deal with serious violence in schools.


 

Two years ago, Chicago’s Fenger High School had its 15 minutes of horrific fame when the beating death of one of its students, an honor student named Derrion Albert — waiting for a bus after school, caught suddenly in a surge of gang violence, savagely beaten with two-by-fours and railroad ties — was recorded on someone’s cell camera and became an international spectacle.

What we lack, it would seem, is the capacity to do anything about the violence itself. We remain trapped within a context of thought that reduces our interaction with the world, and ourselves, to winning or losing, domination or defeat. The public — or perhaps what I mean is the official — imagination, reflected in and defined by our media, runs the gamut from zero tolerance to metal detectors and surveillance cameras. That’s the best we can do —“show them who’s boss” — and it accomplishes nothing except to make matters worse.

"The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them."

The good news is that, in certain corners of the world, especially where things are really bad — in Chicago’s public school and juvenile detention systems, for instance — the official imagination is changing. The people in charge are open to trying something new. That’s why Robert Spicer is at Fenger.

He’s the “culture and calm coordinator.” This is not a hollow title. Spicer, a long-time teacher in Chicago schools and former staffer at the Chicago Justice for Youth Institute, is trained — and a passionate believer — in an array of practices and a philosophy that are known as Restorative Justice, which is to say, justice that heals and transforms rather than punishes. It’s the opposite of “zero tolerance,” the name for the wave of get-tough authoritarianism that first attacked the country’s drug problem, then, post-Columbine, took aim, futilely, at youth violence and alienation.

"The fundamental premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them,” Ted Wachtel and Paul McCold explain in a paper called “From Restorative Justice to Restorative Practices: Expanding the Paradigm,” at the International Institute for Restorative Practices website.

“The social science of restorative practices is an emerging field of study that enables people to restore and build community in an increasingly disconnected world.”

Restore and build community. Isn’t that what we’ve forgotten, or maybe never quite learned, how to do? This isn’t a simple — certainly it’s not a simplistic — process.

“There are stresses in a community,” Spicer said to me as we talked one morning at Fenger. “Restorative Justice holds that space. Volatile anger — all that stuff.”

Read more at Building Community, Building Peace | Common Dreams, including a description of a peacemaking circle.

Subscribe to IIRP News

Sign up for the IIRP News to receive periodic, hopeful emails including news and announcements about the growing field of restorative practices.
Please let us know your name.
Please write a subject for your message.
Please let us know your email address.
Invalid Input
Invalid Input