On her web site, Julia Steiney writes: "For 20 years, I’ve been trying to understand how the public sector can successfully cultivate strong families, healthy schools and lively communities.

"The international 'restoration' movement brings a wide range of practices under a simple philosophical umbrella. Its main technique, 'talking circles,' can be applied almost anywhere and taught to anyone, including young children and undereducated, marginalized adults. It is used to settle fights, to develop empathy in bullies and to safely engage victims and offenders in dialogue..."

Formerly the education columnist for The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal and currently a columnist for EducationNews.org, GoLocalProvidence and EducationViews.org, Julia Steiny is a long-time friend of the IIRP who has attended many IIRP conferences and professional development sessions. A writer and education consultant who’s been working on kids’ issues for over 20 years, Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a community-building initiative grounded in restorative practices, based in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

Here are a couple passages from her most recent article in Education News:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” says the Statue of Liberty. But don’t bother me with your disruptive, troubled, immature, angry, or generally bad kids.

America, the land that takes great pride in its history of inclusiveness and tolerance, has zero tolerance for disruptive, rude or misbehaving children.

Virtually every day, America’s education press reports bizarre or outrageous stories about schools ousting certain kids. This morning, for example, the Associated Press reports that a 13-year-old in an Albuquerque school was “handcuffed and hauled off to a juvenile detention for burping in class.” The P.E. teacher felt the kid had disrupted class, so she called the “School Resource Officer,” an in-school cop. Please note that research shows that having police in schools often criminalizes what was once mere misbehavior. Horrible policy.

...

This school kick-out habit will be hard to break, because it’s quite old. Factory-model schools were specifically designed to sort, sift and eliminate difficult kids. In 1950 the drop-out rate was 52%. Academic failures could easily find work in a robust manufacturing economy. That was then.

But now, here’s the problem: suspending kids only postpones dealing with whatever the issue is. So it festers and gets worse. The truant elementary kid becomes a terror in middle school and perhaps a gang member by high school. Kicking kids out has contributed to America’s prison population, globally the largest both by percentage of the population and in absolute numbers.

To reverse this trend, we would have to get in the habit of stopping the factory assembly line at the first sign of trouble and dealing with it then. Teach the kid how to behave; practice with him; make sure all the adults are modeling the behavior they want to see. Forge partnerships with social-service agencies to solve serious problems coming from the home.

The full article appears here.

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