A little while back I wrote about educators in Los Angeles who were skeptical and concerned about the district’s move toward restorative discipline.
Given the poor track record of new initiatives in the education world, educators are right to be reserve judgment about restorative discipline practices. Anyone looking to implement restorative practices would do well to take teachers’ concerns seriously and think about how to address them before making changes to any existing discipline system. I offer here my (admittedly unscientific) take on educators’ biggest concerns about switching from traditional to restorative discipline.
First, to lay out the differences, here is the chart from Fisher, Frey, and Smith’s Better than Carrots or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management:
Before I list the fears, I should say that while I don’t agree with them, I think all of them are legitimate. In another post, I’ll write about potential rebuttals to each of these.
1. There will be no deterrent to violations of school rules.
Teachers who feel this way believe that the reason (or at least the main reason) that students don’t misbehave in school is the fear of punishments or consequences. The line of thinking here is that the restorative practices that occur after a violation (meetings, restitution, reintegration) are somehow less onerous than traditional consequences (detentions, suspensions, phone calls home). When weighing whether or not to violate a rule, students may choose to violate it because the punishment doesn’t seem that bad.
2. Students will not be held accountable for their actions.
Some believe that what happens to students after a violation in a restorative model is “soft”; in other words, it is not sufficiently unpleasant for us to be able to say that “he was held accountable” or “something was done about it.” The basis of this theory is that the purpose of punishment/consequences is to make the violator feel pain or loss, the idea being that after enduring this painful experience, the offender is less likely to re-offend.
3. Expressions of remorse and the process of making amends are not genuine.
Many of us remember being forced to apologize after doing something wrong as children (and if it wasn’t done to us, we have definitely witnessed others being made to do it). Skeptics of restorative discipline think about these “mandated apologies” and recall that they were certainly less than genuine. Those who fear a move to restorative practices are afraid that students will “get off easy” after being pressured to offer insincere apologies.