The many problems facing modern schools are very complex, but many stem from the fundamental concept we hold of what a school should be. This concept must be transformed if we want to create a productive environment where young people will learn, among other things, how to get along without threatening or hurting each other. We must closely and honestly examine what the purpose of the school is.
The various programs Deep Humanity Institute offers to schools are all based on a set of principles and values that are generally known to be the foundation of restorative justice (for more information on restorative justice and its foundational values and principles, please see the Restorative Justice page under “what we do”).
DHI’s approach represents a return to the simple wisdom of viewing conflict as an opportunity for a community, and individuals, to learn and grow. It operates on the premise that conflict, every kind of conflict, can inflict harm, and this harm creates obligations. Restorative justice creates opportunities for individuals to accept responsibility for repairing that harm, and for communities to support them as they do so. School communities are empowered to choose their response to conflict. All of those affected by the harm can actively participate in devising mutually beneficial solutions, and implementing those solutions. Conflicts are resolved in a way that seeks to restore harmony in the community members’ relationships, and allows people to continue to live together in a safer, healthy environment. This approach allows people to make things as right as they can.
More important than simply establishing a new response to conflict after the conflict has already caused harm, DHI’s school programs use a restorative approach to create a more peaceful and productive environment in schools, helping students to understand how to avoid and resolve conflict within the community.
The peaceful school will not only treat conflict and harm in a radically different way, but it will also use a completely new approach to discipline and decision-making. In the peaceful school students have more freedom, and participate more fully in the life of the school, including the decisions that affect them.
This may seem optimistic to many teachers and parents, but our experience working with K-12 students from the slums of Central America to the modern metropolis of Toronto to isolated rural British Columbia communities has taught us that the more freedom and responsibility we allow students, the more productive their behaviour becomes. The less we push and coerce, the less they resist.
Implementing restorative approaches in schools is simple, but certainly not easy; this is not a new program for dealing with bullying, or behaviour modification. It is as much about a different journey for teachers, parents and administrators as it is about helping students address unproductive behaviours. It asks us to challenge, however difficult it is, our basic assumptions about rules, infractions, punishment and authority.
It asks us to model personal responsibility for our individual and collective actions, and to examine our values and beliefs about education, justice, democracy, and empowerment.
It is also the most exciting educational shift to happen since learning was institutionalized, and has a great potential, over time, to fundamentally change our society.
DHI’s school programs continue to teach us more about ourselves and our community than we had ever imagined they would. The programs offer a journey that invites us to embrace conflict and those we are in conflict with, to be compassionate and caring with those who have hurt others knowing their behaviour often stems from their own experiences of harm and a lack of safety. This journey is not, however, a path which we can impose upon anyone, a new ‘program in a box’ or a ‘quick fix’ for anyone. Restorative approaches challenge us to live our lives differently, and model the change we want to see in the world.
For more information on the specific programs DHI offers to schools, please follow the links to the right of School Programs, under the What We Do button at the top of this page.
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