Today's excerpt is from Julia Steiny writing at EdWeek and also on her blog. She says there is no evidence that punitive measures work to change students' behavior. But restorative justice does work. The piece is presented as an open letter to President Obama. The full link appears below.
No research shows that suspensions teach kids the social skills they need to keep them from getting tossed out of school in the first place. None. Suspensions label a kid “bad,” which often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, even a badge of honor. Students who already experience failure at school welcome a few days’ vacation on the couch with a TV.
But! Beastly behavior in class ruins teaching and learning. When feral or entitled children clown around, start fights or lash out at teachers with impunity, everyone suffers. Teachers and parents of the so-called “good” kids feel that removing the disruptor is the only real weapon they have against chaos.
Here’s the over-arching problem: We’re a deeply punitive culture. We’re so zealous about our faith in the effectiveness of punishment, we don’t seem to care that research routinely argues that punishment doesn’t actually work. It alienates the kids who most need help. Trying to control kids’ behavior with external means — force, hurt, humiliation, school police — often backfires and makes things worse. Even so, we take bad people out of their community, sequester them with other offenders, which makes them worse, only to send them back into a community that didn’t know what to do with them in the first place. Makes no sense.
And yet we believe.
Because if we’re not punishing, we’re enabling.
Actually, enabling and punishment are two sides of the same harmful approach to kids. ...
I wanted to point out that the very reports that warn about the destructive effects of punishment often recommend restorative justice as a solution. Few Americans even know what that is. Internationally, restoration is huge. Whole countries like Australia, New Zealand and most famously of late, Norway, have redesigned their judicial and social systems according to its principles. I urge you to google it.
True, restorative justice does not satisfy our blood lust for revenge. Instead, it holds offenders accountable by making them face the effects of their actions on their community. Together, victims, offenders and the community negotiate restitution. Low-level offenders can have a clean slate. Some people are incapable of self-control and must be locked up. Conventional judicial systems handle these cases. Still, crime rates in these countries have gone down, as has recidivism. The communities are healthier.