Tuesday, January 26, 2016

To Jericho

She who is brave, curious and kind
Uncommon traits for a girl just turned five
Blessed to be your Papa if only on loan
Praying that you'll know the Father
And call him your own
So whether climbing or diving
Singing or rhyming
The very purpose of your life-
his own glory-
Will be your reward.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Backlash: When poor execution makes "RJ" look bad...

Stemming from alarming reports regarding racial disparities in suspension rates, the DOE and the Obama administration has been exerting significant pressure to reduce these rates overall. Restorative Justice proponents have in turn been riding the wave of increased interest, touting the approach in schools as powerful and effective alternative to traditional discipline as well as an effective way of confronting bias. They're right. 

The problem for the RJ movement, however, is that it runs the risk of being sucked down and spit out, along with the rest of the many ill-conceived and poorly executed alternative discipline programs posing as restorative. Take New York City Schools, for example. From the sound of things, NYC schools are facing a major backlash to their suspension reduction campaign, not only from the pro-charter groups but even unions. Betsy McCaughey writes in the New York Post today:

The de Blasio administration is touting a dramatic decrease in school suspensions. That’s only because the unruly students are allowed to stay in the classroom, continuing to disrupt. Last week, at a United Federation of Teachers meeting, 81 percent of teachers said their students are losing learning opportunities because of the disorder and violence.

So instead of suspensions, what are schools doing to address the misbehavior in schools? According to McCaughey, "restorative justice." She writes:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has implemented the Obama administration’s policy of replacing suspensions with “restorative justice” — a kind of talk therapy — even for serious offenses such as insubordination, fighting, arson, assaults and marijuana possession.

We can assume that McCaughey isn't very familiar with what restorative justice actually is -her example of an Adlai Stevenson High School student being sent home with a "warning card" after being caught with seven bags of marijuana confirms that fact. But we can also assume that she's pretty representative of the general public's knowledge too. 

The result is a smear on the good name of Restorative Justice, an approach to discipline that is neither "soft" nor mere "talk therapy." In the words of leading expert Howard Zehr, "Restorative justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible." This means that "restorative disciplines does not seek to deny consequences for misbehavior," write Lorraine Amstutz and Judy Mullet, in their book Restorative Discipline for Schools. "Instead, it focuses on helping students understand the real harm done by their misbehavior, to take responsibility for the misbehavior, and to commit to positive change." 

Restorative discipline takes time, resources, and commitment. And the same factors that make traditional discipline difficult in our most troubled schools make restorative discipline difficult too. Proponents of restorative justice in schools would do well not to oversell, or sell out, the integrity of their process in an effort to be a panacea to suspension rate inequality. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Passive voice = the worst kind of victimization...

Here's what a well meaning and passionate advocate for students wrote in October 2015 (emphasis mine):

"Growing up, Cameron Simmons endured a gauntlet of school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests that could have easily condemned him to a life behind bars or even to an early violent death--the present lot of many of his childhood friends. But things turned around for Cameron in the 12th grade, when he found himself at the doorstep of a restorative justice school in West Oakland."

The passive voice is being used for effect, granted. The author wants us to see Mr. Simmons as a victim of at best a failed system, at worse of systemic oppression. She has an important message and I am elated for Mr. Simmons and the empowerment he found through RJ processes. By all accounts in the article, he has found the kind of agency that he was denied, at least rhetorically, in the paragraph above.

Stock Film Lives Again- Sargent Hall, Northwestern University

While watching the surprisingly good Amazon original series The Man in the High Castle, I almost instantly recognized a scene (Episode 9). It was Sargent Hall, Northwestern University- a place I ate many a meal in and lived next door to for three out of four years. But what was most surprising was that while I was aware Sargent had been used as a hospital for a film shot while I was an undergrad, it certainly wasn't The Man in the High Castle. It was actually The Express, a critically applauded but commercially failed film about the first African American Heisman Trophy winner from Syracuse University, Ernie Davis. I don't know a lot about how stock footage works, but Amazon was clearly making the most of pre-filmed footage- and it worked just fine.

Sargent Hall in The Express 

Sargent Hall in The Man in the High Castle
Sargent Hall circa 2010 (notice the Tech 4th floor construction)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Zehr (Little Book of RJ)- Chapter 1

"Restorative justice focuses on needs [in a broad sense] more than deserts [though not neglecting its importance]."

Reading Zehr on "what RJ isn't" it became unclear what was left for it to be! He is clearly trying to clarify some false perceptions of a movement that has matured and grown in many directions. That makes sense.

It also makes sense to expand our view of justice in terms of addressing the greater needs of all stakeholders involved. But one can be excused if they feel squeamish about Zehr's statement that "victims should be able to identify their own needs." At a time where the subjective needs of the perceived victim take precedence over facts, we should all be a bit skeptical.

As Zehr highlights, the State is not particularly good at addressing justice in the broader sense he is advocating. Bad things seem to happen when it tries. Yet, I doubt most RJ advocates are ready to surrender the civic sphere entirely. Zehr claims, "Restorative Justice is neither a panacea nor necessarily a replacement for the legal system."

Finally, the metaphor of RJ as a "compass" and not a "map," seems helpful. By compass, he's suggesting that RJ tells us where to go but not necessarily how to get there.

The Little Book of Restorative Justice, by Howard Zehr

Thoughts on Justice

Initial Thoughts on the Idea of Justice 

What do we mean when we talk about justice? We believe in it as a guiding principle. It is central to our ethical system as a society. The assurance of justice and the absolute right to seek it; these are sacred cows. But it's actually hard to say what justice is.

Justice... is it a thing? A state of being? A process? An action?

Action(s): "We will ensure that justice is served."
Process: "May justice be done."
Attribute: "A warrior for justice"
Condition: "Justice for all"

I think of justice as getting what you deserve (just deserts). That's pretty simplistic and sounds mostly punitive- but I do mean it in the positive sense of the word too. I'm also realizing how individualistic that sounds. However, "community justice" sounds scary to me and evokes images of lynchings and vigilante style retribution. But justice doesn't occur in a vacuum.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


This year I will be completing a graduate certificate program in Restorative Justice for Schools through Eastern Mennonite University. My hope is that this course of study will compliment my growth as a 6-12th grade independent schools education leader. While I began teaching primarily focused on content (the emphasis of my M.A.T. portfolio at Johns Hopkins University), I've seen that the best teachers, and certainly the best administrators, are much more than master teachers of content. They are counselors, mentors and yes, disciplinarians.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Canoe on the Codorus

Tonight Laura and I put a canoe in at Bantz Park in York City and paddled down to the boat basin and back. The high banks of the Codorus, dug out by the Army Corp of Engineers for flood control make this stretch a bit less beautiful than it otherwise might be, but the highlight was definitely the wildlife spotted nonetheless, especially the birds. We saw: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black Crowned Night Heron, Killdeer, and a likely Sharp Shinned Hawk and Kingfisher. We also saw plenty of groundhogs, cats, and two water snakes. The canoeing was easy in light to minimal current, besides at the riffle at Tyler Run Creek, which we bumped through going down and portaged on the way back. The sediment bar that forms there was greatly reduced by the ACE just a month or two ago. While we won't re-visit this stretch any time soon, it's fun to see downtown York from the water.
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