‘Restorative justice’ discipline policies fail both students and teachers

Student behavior is driving educators out of the classroom, and “restorative justice” policies are unfortunately doing more harm than good, writes Jeremy Adams in an article adapted from his new book, Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation.

Not only are these policies undermining teachers’ authority in the classroom and their ability to teach, but they actually end up harming the very students they are meant to help and their peers who are trying to learn, continues Adams.

[T]he predictable albeit unintended consequence of these well-meaning policies is that disruptive students get away with previously unacceptable behavior. Outbursts of student vulgarity and violence have become normalized as things that teachers and other students have to endure.

If they are not held accountable by the school, why should they think they will be held accountable by society when they act in antisocial or violent ways?

Suspension numbers down?

Adams defines restorative justice policies as “a non-punitive approach to discipline wherein issues are supposed to be addressed ‘inside the school,’ not with suspensions.” As a former teacher, I am in full support of working to keep a student in school. Meaningful conversations about behavior decisions are important, and suspensions should not be flippantly handed out.

The problem is, though, that consequences for bad behavior get tossed out the window under relaxed discipline policies. Classroom disorder and violence go unchecked, and effective education is undermined.

Countless teachers have shared their personal experiences on what this looks like, recounting disturbing instances of being assaulted by their students or needing to remove their entire class because of one student throwing desks or trying to stab classmates with pencils and scissors.

Many teachers don’t report these incidents out of fear of retaliation and threats of termination or suspension. They find their hands are tied as school leadership pushes to lower suspension rates, and when teachers do reach out and seek support from administrators and union representatives on behavior issues, it is often lacking.

So reported suspension rates may appear down for a given school or district, but it’s “not because students are behaving any better,” according to Adams.

It’s not because intimate classroom chats have made challenging students see the error of their ways or because they have subdued their rowdier inclinations. No, it is because teachers are forced to endure whatever students brazenly and flagrantly throw at them (sometimes literally).

“School-to-prison pipeline”

Restorative justice policies are “meant to address the problem that so many minority students end up in a ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ after a series of ‘minor infractions of school rules,'” writes Adams.

But don’t we risk furthering this gateway by tolerating and even accommodating violent student behavior?

“It is only in the peculiar world of modern education that teachers are told to purposefully turn a blind eye to behaviors and actions that would be unacceptable in any other setting,” continues Adams.

“Listen to what American teachers have to say. And watch many of them exit the field rather than tolerate what’s happening on it.”