Restorative justice and cheating in class
Feb 24, 2011
I busted two kids for cheating in my AP Computer Science class today. What I didn’t know last night, while researching and documenting the way they cheated, is how much I would learn from that experience.
....I think in some circles Restorative Justice (RJ) has been presented as or labeled a “soft” solution that avoids actual punishment. But what I saw today was a much more satisfying solution to a the problem than an arbitrary and possibly ineffective punishment. As the dean and I stepped the two students (individually) through the process of answering the set of questions, I decided to throw in my own: “Are there any other cases, in this or any other class, where you crossed the line from research into academic dishonesty or plagiarism?” Now I’m not sure if the answer would have come out via another process, but I want to give some credit to RJ for helping one student admit that, yes, there were other classes in which this happened.
Then we let the student try to answer the question about who had been affected. It’s easy to say “you” or “me” in that situation, but with some prompting it also came out that the classmates (facing an unfair advantage) and the school community (living with an atmosphere of fraud) are also negatively impacted by cheating. And what needs to happen to make it right? Well, their previous semester grades both dropped by one letter without the extra credit. These changes to their transcripts need to be sent to colleges where they’ve applied. Their parents need to know what happened. Other teachers who weren’t aware of cheating in their classes need to be told the truth and given apologies. But these answers didn’t come from me.
In many situations where the student has done or is doing the wrong thing — which can be discipline situations like this one, or ongoing low academic performance, or any number of other teenage problems — the adults in the room often dominate the conversation. The more adults, the worse it gets. I’ve been in Student Success Team (SST) meetings where the student hardly says a word. Everyone wants to help, but we don’t really know how.
Restorative Justice feels very different. We give space for the student to think and respond. We demand answers that are honest and satisfying to those who have been wronged. And, in the end, we actually resolve the problem.