Restorative Justice in Education.” In other words, how effective does the use of critical theory prove to be when applied to restorative justice in education? Author Dorothy Vaandering uses a logic and flow-driven narrative, which is informative and leaves a distinct impression that she has provided a worthwhile study for examination.
What is restorative justice? Vaandering explains that restorative justice (RJ) is a process that eschews “punitive, managerial structures” in education — that is, the “old school” system of hard core discipline that promises punishment if instructions are not followed — and replaces those strategies with policies that “emphasize the building and repairing of relationships” (Vaandering, 2010, p. 145). Basically, RJ is a policy that allows the perpetrator of a wrongdoing to meet and interact with (and apologize to) the person harmed by those actions; and in the case of educational environments, the rather than just punish and isolate the bully, the bully sits down with counselors and the person who was bullied, and a restorative conference is conducted.
This research study was needed, the author explains, because although RJ has been used effectively by school systems “worldwide, in an effort to build safe school communities,” there has been a dearth of “evidence-based research” conducted. Is RJ a strategy that is sustainable? Does it have “transformative potential” that can bring it from “the margins to the mainstream of schooling”?
By using critical theory Vaandering believes RJ can be understood “in a broader sense” (151). On pages 164-65 Vaandering critiques the “shaming” aspect of RJ, which posits that both the people that offend others and the victims of those offensive actions experience shame. But both people in this scenario will “struggle to know how to deal with their shame if not given opportunity to do so.” Hence, the offender (in RJ) might be stigmatized and the result could be him “re-offending, or offending with greater aggression; and the victim might be “acting out against others” because using shame in RJ won’t necessarily settle the issue (Vaandering, 165). “Using critical theory problemetizes the very term ‘restorative’,” Vaandering explains (165).
Vaandering uses critical theory to examine the effectiveness of the shaming theory and the social discipline window: both “celebrate the healthier culture that results when communication is more respectful and honors the worth of all” (168). That said, both theories focus on just the victim and the offender and fail to take into consideration “the institutional and structural forces at play” that shape beliefs and actions of individuals. Using the critical theory Vaandering sees that this process accepts “the myth” that the world’s problems begin with the offender and “ignores structural injustice” found within the institutional philosophy (168).
Hence, critical theory views RJ as creating “caring relationship in education” and not just a “separate discipline” that falls within the category of safe schools, building peace, and more. RJ requires a “paradigm shift” in which educational institutions no longer are “intent on retaining power and dominating” but rather then encourage “humanization” (Vaandering, 171).
The methodology used by Vaandering actually embraces “Logic and Flow” — she lays the “well structured” groundwork and “accurate conclusions are drawn from the evidence used” (The Comprehensive Exam Rubric). The research is consistent with the assumptions of critical theory because it challenges accepted assumptions, uses logic and intelligent argument, and seeks to liberate humans from certain circumstances that restrict their humanity and freedom. The social action resulting from Vaandering’s work is that schools can become transformative institutions if they broaden the scope and strategies of restorative justice; moreover, schools can become places where power and authority are transcended by the ideals of “relationship” and “healing” — making “hope practical, rather than despair convincing” (Vaandering, 173).
Logic and Flow (2011). Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Vaandering, Dorothy. (2010). The Significance of Critical Theory for Restorative Justice in Education. The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, Vol. 32, 145-176.
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