Archive for September, 2017

(Taking a small break between chapters in The Interregnum Mile to bring you something to consider)

Image result for shell game

Is Restorative Justice being “jacked?”

Restorative Justice (RJ) has a lengthy (centuries-old) global history too lengthy and complex to elucidate here. It  thankfully has become the recent focus of school disciplinary and judicial systems at a time when the school- to- prison pipeline is booming (thanks, private prisons), policy brutality is soaring, there is a rise in hate crimes (thanks, 2016 elections), and the inequitable rates of imprisonment and suspensions between white students and students of color have now continued unabated for decades.

However, despite its powerful and positive effects, and future potential to radically re envision our approach to peace, justice and sustainable communities, I am beginning to witness the emergence of something else calling itself “restorative justice,” but is perhaps offering us something else.

In schools across the United States, RJ being presented as group circle discussions on just about anything (so … nice democratic classroom practice… but not justice focused…) and the language being blended into what is being touted as “justice” frameworks are beginning to smack of something else reformy….GRIT.

Speaking to the GRIT narrative,  Pedro Noguera says “I’m not hearing in the conversation acknowledgments of the effect poverty, income inequality and the opportunity gap has on student achievement …All the grit in the world can’t compensate for the obstacles that face so many students in low income communities.” So, when RJ is synonymous with “grit” what happens to the focus on systemic injustice? It becomes  … something else.

RJ has its (contemporary) roots in 1970’s work in challenging systems of inequality by placing the tools for change and healing in the hands of children and communities themselves, and reducing the school- to- prison pipeline. RJ was (is) a practice intended to, “protect individuals, social stability and the integrity of the group.” (“Utu”Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 17 September 2013).

But more and more, what is being called RJ is in fact a focus on “character building” or “grit”—these terms attend to individual character, not on addressing systematic inequality. They place the narrative back in the neoliberal lap of individualism. While restorative justice is definitely personal (i.e perpetrator and victim), the focus is more on community building/healing than it is on strengthening personality traits. It is a process that commits people to one another in a rebalancing of the power distribution in society and shared behaviors. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.” (Zehr, Howard. Changing Lenses – A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale PA: 2005, 268–69).

Now that RJ is the new “in” thing (everyone’s doing it) it has a following, and examples abound everywhere of teachers modeling this practice. Some of these classrooms are focused on “vocabulary” which includes teaching kids to focus on words like: orderliness, perseverance, and rigor. Not sure what any of that has to do with justice. What I am beginning to sense is that RJ is being carefully and quietly hijacked by the GRIT narrative that has recently gained traction as the vehicle for teaching (tracking? training?) social emotional learning. Yet, ironically they are at their core very different things. Grit and Duckworth’s study have been linked to racist practices and research.

Concepts such as “social-emotional or non-cognitive learning, or character education, or habits of success”  are NOT synonymous with restorative justice, much less equality, any more than Gardner’s learning styles are! Neither is “positive behavior support.”

Those are buzz words that have been developed and embraced by the same organizations that have contributed to decades of inequality through failed policies….now climbing aboard the RJ train. See the Face Book site sharing posts from Angela Duckworth and other practices that are justice “light”

While narratives of grit or habits of mind attempts to (re)colonize attitude and behaviors of students of color, RJ “represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups,” whose traditions were “often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers.” source

Another article argues, “It is based on the principle that crime affects people, their families and communities (Strang, 2001).” And that RJ has, “an intention to reduce the violence inherent to the State’s apparatus

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Notice the deft pivot at where the focus is on: “Making sure that students aren’t punished or jailed for actions stemming directly from their own years as victims of crimes and poor upbringing,” but nothing is said about transforming a violent and oppressive system of racialized policing and punishment. The focus is no longer on transforming the system, it is on children as victims of “poor upbringing” (not sure what that means…) or developing better “character.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that schools must have quality infrastructure in place to support children who are surviving trauma, children with behavioral challenges, and create nurturing non-punitive classroom communities. There is a place for classroom conversations, circles, and support for individual learning.

I just do not wish to confuse that with restorative justice, or to have the latter subsumed by the former, a process by which the system would (yet again) cease to be the focus of our collective attention, and we instead turn attention to children as isolated agents of “good choice” or “character.”

It is also being blended with social expectations that seem to have little to do with violence or justice:

One school site says “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” This almost sounds like the “good behavior” narratives promulgated by charter schools aiming to “civilize” urban black youth.

Orderliness and manners? There are even some resources for versions of “restorative” practices that focus on Habits of Mind traits like “persistence,” “striving for accuracy,” and “impulsivity control.”

Compare an original/earlier definition of RJ:

“(I)n these communities relationships and victim-offender interaction were personal, and usually led to strong bonds and sometimes even to reduction in deviant behaviour. Most importantly, deviance was seen as a community problem, and a community failure not simply as a matter for the offender to pay or restore.” source

With this more recent (watered down) version:

“Restorative justice is about understanding the role trauma plays on the brain and developing teaching methods that actually are based on the needs of the students.” Note the word “personalized” here which reminds me of “personalized learning” now code for “students staring at a screen” learning. Both seem to be trending.

The difference may seem slight…but it’s significant. The emphasis on “the brain” here gestures toward developing a role for the use of psychometrics for predictive analytics (can we predict who might become deviant or commit anti social behavior?) rather than systemic restoration or healing.

There are already links between the Five Factors personality test (used in predictive analytics and data miners in psy ops) and the Grit narrative. As I have posted in earlier blogs:

There is a growing emphasis on the “affective” learning of students.  Some examples include: “ETS’ SuccessNavigator assessment and ACT’s Engage College Domains and Scales Overview … the broader domains in these models are tied to those areas of the big five personality theory.” Also see Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

Paul Thomas notes, “grit narratives are also often masks for race and class biases in the same way IQ was embraced throughout much of the twentieth century.”

Bridging grit and personality to restorative justice is merely one more link the in the passage of selling out progressive narratives (justice, peace or restoration for examples) into data profiteering and social corporate engineering. Education reform history is steeped in using such tactics.

See titles like “Justice and personality: Using integrative theories to derive moderators of justice effects” and “The Importance of Perceptions in Restorative Justice Conferences: The Influence of Offender Personality Traits on Procedural Justice and Shaming” to see where RJ language is being blended with new forms of personality testing.

Even Teach for America is on the Restorative Justice ticket.      #Hashtag irony.

Who else might you ask could be leading this hijacking effort? Maybe Chiefs for Change?  who are passing out information using a finely tuned blurring instrument that seamlessly takes you from thinking your focusing on justice, when the shell game in fact is pulling a bait and switch. Note the article entitled: “The connection between grit, resilience, and equity”

What is their agenda? Read on:

“Wilson points out that leading businesses have found ways to diminish hierarchy, to create flatter organizations, and to reinvent work spaces and climates with the needs of real human beings in mind — and have profited as a result. Schools should learn lessons, he says. And they should invest in helping everyone come to a deeper understanding of behaviors that can quickly be classified as insubordination or disrespect, in ways that decrease conflict and punishment.”

With a nudge from researcher and blogger Alison Mcdowell I also did a search on relationships between RJ and social impact bonds. It appears to have been emerging in the U.K.  back in 2015. The article says: “Work with offenders is already delivered on a payment by results basis by the new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). If an offender who had gone through restorative justice delivered by an independent provider as well as other CRC-funded activities does not go on to commit a further crime, who gets the credit?”

I guess justice is for sale.


The Interregnum Mile: Chapter Six

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Chapter Six

“You did what???” Kelley demanded the previous evening, his voice echoing with incredulity.

The three of them stood around the empty darkened parking lot, and told Kelley everything they knew. The lot that ran alongside the Interregnum Mile was abandoned; cracked blacktop with lanky clusters of milkweed poking through. The only sounds were the distant hum of cars crawling up and down the busy streets through the center of town. From here, they could see tiny lights twittering inside the row homes, and hear the occasional honk of a car horn. The air was warm and still. But the night was growing late, and they didn’t have much time to discuss what was to be done.

“We had to confirm our suspicions,” Deacon said, insistently.

Ryder kept his eyes turned down toward his shoes. He felt both proud and fearful about divulging to Kelley the snooping they had done. But, they needed the help. There were only three of them. They were short on time and resources. It was time to ask for help.

Keesha recounted to Kelley the information she had been slowly gathering via her mother’s work computer which was kept at her home office. Every weekend she went to visit Susan, Keesha hacked into her mother’s data base to access the Romer Onyx network. She had to be careful that her snooping could not be traced back to Susan, lest she would lose her job. Or worse, she would be distraught by Keesha’s betrayal of her trust.

“I have copies of some of these contracts. I have copies of the emails,” Keesha told Kelley. “We aren’t making this up. We swear!”

Kelley sat, silent. Stunned. Even as a Black Hatter, he was impressed with the way in which they had pieced this together. “Who taught you to hack like that?” he asked her, with a wry smile buried just slightly beneath mock indignation.

“Well, I started with that old phone our friend Orion hides under his bed. Then, I just kept messin’ around with my mom’s computer every night she went to bed. It’s not hard once you figure out the basics.”

Kelley burst out laughing at this last comment. “Brains … wasted on the youth” he chuckled. “Well, not wasted in your case, I guess” he added, nodding toward Keesha, and then shaking his head at the boys. They didn’t disagree.

“Uncle Kelley,” Ryder jumped in. “Please. We need you. We need the Hatters. We need them to know that the data pods have been a distraction. Romer Onyx has gotten ten steps ahead, outthinking us. Meanwhile, we are still fighting the fight from decades ago, hanging on to the idea that what they wanted then, is what they still want. But it’s not. They want more. Everything I told you is true! And we are chasing the wrong leads, and searching in the wrong places. They have been counting on that. It’s not the data pods they want. The real fight is going on right below our feet. Under our streets. We need help.”

“We are gonna need more than that,” Kelley replied. “We need access.” They all paused in thought. Access meant geographical opportunities to get into RO’s physical buildings as well cyberspace.

Deacon finally chimed in. “Pop’s basement has got a tunnel that runs underneath through the city. When he was making his cellar for keeping things cool, he blasted a wall that opened right up into an old subway tunnel by mistake.”

Interregnum City hadn’t used the underground tunnels for a decade, at least. Instead, the community had repurposed the old trolley cars, and rebuilt the above-ground rail system to enable its citizens  to get around. It was less infrastructure to maintain, and easier to manage. Now, the tunnels lay empty and hollow like sedimentary half-memories.

“Anyone else besides you and Pops know these tunnels are accessible?” Kelley asked.

Deacon thought for a moment. “No. I don’t think so at least. My parents barely every go down there. I do most of the heavy carrying up and down from that cellar.” Kelley nodded, satisfied with this answer.

“So, Ryder. You and I are going to drive off to Arizona … as far as your mom is concerned. Deacon, you’re going to get us into those tunnels next week, after everyone’s in bed. You’ll have to tell Pops everything, I suppose.”

They all nodded in agreement.

“Yep,” Deacon said. “But…on some level… he knows something’s going on. He won’t take much convincing. And, I’ll have to get my old car fixed. It’s too far to travel on my bike.”

Keesha looked around at all three of them. “This is all so easy for all of you!” she bemoaned. “I’ve gotta go into the belly of the best!” She scraped the tips of her shoes against the parking lot gravel.

Kelley sighed slowly. Ryder fell silent, trying to stop the worry that was already crowding his mind.

After a long silence between the four of them, Kelley said, “Yes, Keesha, you do.”