Restorative Justice and Ungoogleable Learning

Last week, I had the privilege of leading a three-day training for our Restorative Justice Student Team. I had been working on developing the training for the last few months, so it was extremely gratifying to see it come together and to witness the students’ enthusiasm for learning about restorative practices.

On the first day, we played a game called “Out of the Box.” The game is designed to help students think of creative contract items that use an offender’s strengths and assets to repair harms and make things right. While setting up for the game and dividing the group into two teams, the silliness that characterized our three days together started up again.

“You never said we couldn’t Google it!” one student joked.

I laughed along with the students, and then realized that we had struck on a great illustration.

“Well, let’s just think about that for a moment. If I Google ‘How-can-Jordan-who-likes-to-draw-cartoons-and-make-silly-videos-repair-the-harm-from-stealing-Alex’s-longboard,’ what will come up?” I joked back, referencing the people and circumstance from the scenario we had been using for training.

The students laughed and agreed that a Google search like that wouldn’t come back with anything helpful.

“So what if I Google ‘Colorado-penalties-for-misdemeanor-theft?’”

We all agreed that Google would have a clear answer for that search.

“So if Google can give us answers for the traditional justice system so easily, why isn’t Google helpful in restorative justice?”

This started a great conversation that outlined some of the main points that differentiate restorative justice from the punitive system.

The students talked about how restorative justice considers the individuals involved, and takes into account the unique harms that have resulted to the victim, community, and offender. They also talked about how the best restorative justice contracts are creative and unique to the case. It is the collective brainpower of the people in the circle, considering the individuals involved, their strengths and assets, and the specific harms from the incident, that allows those factors to be synthesized into creative ideas to repair harm. Being truly restorative involves understanding the complicated world of individuals, the range of harms (physical, financial, emotional, spiritual), and practicing creative problem solving. This is a uniquely human ability.

With smartphones in their pockets giving them access to an almost infinite source of information, students today are being educated in a world very different from the world I attended school in not too long ago. When you can look up the date of the Declaration of Independence or the numerical value of Pi wherever you are in just a few seconds, what is the point of memorizing it for a test? Why invest the mental energy when you can just Google it?

This new reality calls for a radical shift in public education, especially at the Middle and High School levels. This shift is a liberating one! The time previously devoted to memorizing events, facts, and dates can now be applied to creativity, invention, and problem-solving. We can begin to adopt educational paradigms that capitalize on our uniquely human abilities. This era allows us to spend less time memorizing the correct answer and more time looking at questions with many possible correct answers. The growth of technology is a catalyst for us to begin coaching students in the valuable skills of creative thinking and problem solving.

Restorative justice compliments this shift. Rather than a student knowing that getting in trouble in class results in detention, we can now coach students to think critically about the impact of their actions in class on the teacher, peers, school, and themselves and then brainstorm ways to make things right and repair relationships with those individuals. This is meaningful learning because it is responsive to the world around us, actively shaping the communities we live in, and absolutely ungoogleable!

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