Ann Arbor schools need to move to a restorative justice model of discipline
May 26, 2010
from the guest column by Joe Summers:
Over the past year, the children of two sets of friends have gotten into trouble giving me a chance to watch our current system in practice. In one case, I heard teacher after teacher testify that the youth had been exceptional, and never caused harm, only to be astounded to hear a panel of principals and vice principals rule that the youth should be permanently expelled from Ann Arbor's school system.
The fact that a panel of intelligent people could make such a decision told me that the current practices and principles guiding disciplinary procedures in our schools are still rooted in the principles of punitive justice.
The focus of punitive justice is first whether any particular rule or law has been violated and then what kind of punishment someone should receive for breaking that rule or law. It has no real focus on what harm has actually been done. It is not particularly focused on helping victims, or those who have broken the rules. It is a terrible model for a school system to be using.
In contrast, a restorative justice model is focused on what actual harm that has been done, what needs to be done to help any victims, and what needs to be done to restore those who have harmed others so they can be in good relationship with others in the future.
I suspect that a vast majority of adults in this country have at one time or another done something stupid such that if we had been caught, or if someone hadn't decided to give us a break, it could have done significant damage to the future of our lives and careers. Most of us have learned from those mistakes and gone on to lead lives productively contributing to the broader society.