I am sure we can all remember playing “school” when we were younger. At a very young age, children act out what they think school looks like. Have you ever watched this happen? The kids find chairs, line them up, put their dolls into the chairs, and proceed to teach the students. I am sure you have witnessed something that looks like this. Where do children get their ideas about a classroom? When I see children lose themselves in a make-believe classroom, I can’t help but notice the wisdom that they share about our schools. I have even watched a young child manage her classroom by pointing a stick at the doll in a chair. Where does this come from?
When we begin to examine how we discipline our students, the power positions in our schools, and the use of authority (or discretion) in our classrooms and hallways, we need to be honest and ask if the balance is appropriate and whether our current practice actually pursues shalom or stands in the way. Without devaluing our current understandings or dishonoring those that went before us in Christian education, we need to question assumptions that may have been harmful and refocus the lens.
In the true sense of reform, we must begin to see a dying to our old self: our old ways of discipline, power structures in the classroom, and our use of authority. It is not easy to die to our old selves; it is tough and unfamiliar, and there is comfort in how we have always done things. The outcome of all our discipleship our Christian schools must have the end result of love, grace, and forgiveness.
Howard Zehr, in his book Changing the Lens, refers to restorative justice as a just framework for covenant communities to pursue shalom in our schools: “The framework: it makes a difference. How do we interpret what has happened? What factors are relevant? What responses are possible and appropriate? The lens we look through determines how we frame the problem and the ‘solution.’ That lens is the focus of this book” (Zehr, 2005, 178). And ultimately, it is that lens that we all need to focus on when embedding the culture of restorative justice in our schools. It is not an easy overnight change; it is deep and structural. And one of the reasons for the tough change is that we have been “playing school” since we were very young; we have all acted out the main characters of “school” from an early age.
Our schools are places where harm happens, and it can happen at many levels. How do we handle this?