June 23, 2013

A Good Story About High School

By Cynthia Alkon

NPR ran a story on Saturday about one high school in Michigan and its use of a “conflict resolution room” and peer mediators to help students to either prevent conflicts from becoming worse, or to deal with them after they have become violent.  The story also discusses how the high school uses restorative justice processes for some of these conflicts.

Suspensions have decreased by 10% since this high school started using peer mediation, restorative justice, and the conflict resolution room.  This is significant as studies clearly indicate that students who are suspended are less likely to graduate and more likely to end up in the criminal justice system (the “school to prison pipeline.”).

This is the link to listen to this story which includes interviews with high school students who participated and their accounts of why they thought the program was valuable.

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Comments

  • Natalie Fleury says:

    I had the privilege of working with a grant funded project here in Milwaukee that used RJ principles and trained Circle Keepers to help their peers work through problems that could result in suspensions. The process really works, and we had students referred to the process for behavioral problems end up as Circle Keepers themselves. There are also a number of them who attribute increased academic success and even college admission to their work with the RJ Circles.

  • Lawyer Jim says:

    It is a good way to resolve problems. The biggest undersight (yes, undersight) in schools is the lack of understanding of “types”. Types of people, that is. Individuals will see the world in very different ways and having mediation will definitely help the “black and white” approach to grievance resolution hit the backdoor. The sooner and earlier this is realized in the lives of young people, the better the future bodes.

    Violence has a huge emotional component, of course, and the sooner those emotions are brought to light with the assistance of mediation “therapy”, the better. So much misunderstanding happens and people are so quick to judge and mete out “punishment” without understanding the core problems.

    From a psychological standpoint, mediation is such a profound thing. Perhaps it can lead us out of the more Draconian practices, and take us toward better understanding altogether.

  • Lawyer Jim says:

    Just as an addendum, “types” requires further explanation. It has to be handled with due care. In essence, it is not “labelling” a person but only to be used as a sign-post as to what a person is like. There is no narrowing a person into a corner here. That is too easy. When we attempt to “group” people into “bad” and “good” this only further undermines each student’s growth.

    What to do when we have a clearly physical type taking aim at a more intellectual type? There is bound to be a problem. It has to be approached sensitively.

    Mediation is more of an artistic endeavor than anything. It helps with understanding, which is paramount in resolving difficulties between “types”. The orange attacks the apple and we assume, in our current system of “punishment” ,that both have to be treated as a “kiwi” ie a system based on hard and fast, black and white rules (no offense to the kiwi, it is a very good fruit). This does not work. It has been proven to not work over and over again.

    The true mediator who understands this predicament will try to bridge gaps in understanding, for both the apple and the orange.

    Having taught students for 10 years, I can say, unequivocally, there is no replacement for good mediation between students. “Expelling” is a failure of teachers and administration alike. The easy route, so to speak.

    How does one teach respect for individuality? Mediation and group discussion, that’s it. When students can see that they are reflections of each other, to infinite shades and degrees, therein lies human progress. Where there is the impetus to “help” one another in our goals rather than “divide and conquer”, only then can an educator proclaim a degree of success.

    Thus, an understanding of “types” is such a necessary tool for any educator.

  • Lawyer Jim says:

    Let’s take a look at the word “suspension” for a moment before we hang up our hats for the evening.

    The true meaning of “suspension” is the following:

    early 15c., “temporary halting or deprivation,” from Latin suspensionem (nominative suspensio) “the act or state of hanging up, a vaulting,” from past participle stem of suspendere “to hang”

    Generally, a number of people feel very good with this word “suspension” because it gives them a false sense of power. It is a word that should be expunged from the educational vernacular, because it is so loaded, in our current society, with power-hunger aggression.

    “Hanging” students, as metaphoric for “suspension”, for offensive behavior, is “middle ages”. We talk about “progress” but to”hang” students, metaphorically, seems prepostorous. Hard and fast mono-rules will never be able “help” students. If anything it is a posturing for power and not understanding.

    Who here thinks that “deprivation”/suspension works? I have never met anyone who has been deprived and has been able to fully realize his or her potential. As a matter of fact, it isn’t possible. You can make someone into a robo-citizen, but there will always be something missing. Their contribution will be partial, at best.

    “Deprivation” begs for its opposite, over-indulgence, and using this “deprivation” tactic only creates more problems than any educator can handle. The more you deprive, the more a student wants, deviantly or otherwise. This is a natural fact. Even a “temporary” deprivation is not justified. You are sure to get a “temporary” lashing out, from deprivation, in the opposite direction. Once again, this is nature’s rule.

    Mediation can help neutralize these imbalances, and I applaud those who have the wherewithal to implement this mode of conciliation between the young students of life who may be at odds, for one reason or another.

    Kudos to you.

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