Letters to the Editor 29.2

Restorative Justice: From the Bottom Up

Finally, someone is starting the conversation about the perceived “wins” when schools districts across the country mandate restorative justice (“Restorative Justice: What It Is and Is Not,” fall 2014).

For years Teachers Unite, as part of the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC), has been organizing for restorative justice practices to be carefully built through collaborative leadership at school sites.

Several of our youth and parent DSC allies, including those in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver, have won significant legislative gains concerning discipline codes and social-emotional learning programmatic supports. However, without buy-in from local teacher unions, these gains are sure to have minimal impact and, even worse, result in teacher backlash against yet another top-down education policy mandate. In the context of the movement against the school-to-prison pipeline, this backlash will go down as an example (although, unfortunately, not the first) of educators fighting on the wrong side of history.

The act of growing restorative justice in schools is the act of building grassroots power at the school site through circles, peer mediation, and alternatives to suspension and expulsion, guided by these principles:

  • collaborative leadership
  • collective action
  • community accountability
  • resistance to unjust institutions
  • transformation through struggle

Restorative practices are part of a broader project of transformative justice, which seeks to challenge and alter the way that justice operates both in our schools and in our society as a whole. Teachers Unite is explicitly working to create a movement of educator-leaders who collaborate with parents and students to abolish mass incarceration, a significant legacy of African slavery, which we are still grappling with in this country.

We hope that Rethinking Schools readers and their local teacher union chapters will take visible, active stands against racist school discipline, police brutality, and mass incarceration. The privatization onslaught from charters and other union-busting forces can only be resisted when educators link arms with school communities to fight racist neoliberal policies on every front.

Teachers Unite members, staff, and board of directors

New York City

Gaza Editorial Under Fire

Your editorial about the latest war between Israel and Hamas (“The Children of Gaza,” fall 2014) misses a very important point. Israel did not start the war. Only after being assaulted by thousands of rockets and the kidnapping and murder of three young Jewish men did it finally respond. Unfortunately, there were 500 Palestinian children who died during the war. There are numerous testimonials to the fact that Hamas authorities in Gaza pressured civilians to disregard the IDF’s messages and stay in their homes in order to act as human shields to protect Hamas’ military infrastructures in the area. The powerful images of their dead is the reason that Hamas intentionally builds its missile factories and bunkers underneath civilian homes and stores its ammunition in schools and kindergartens, hospitals, and mosques. Hamas rests its conscience by announcing that the dead children are “shahids” who will make it to heaven.

During this conflict, risking their lives, Israelis treated wounded Palestinians, repaired electrical wires damaged by Hamas rockets, allowed more than 10 tons of goods into Gaza. If their intent was to kill the Palestinians, they would have done none of that.

Were Hamas leading its people forward to a life of stability and peace, it would use building materials for schools instead of smuggling tunnels. Hamas would stop stockpiling weapons in mosques and transporting them in U.N. ambulances. Hamas would stop firing missiles from civilian population centers. If Israel weren’t so concerned for Palestinian lives, it would respond to Hamas’ horrific decisions in kind.

Israel has the right to protect its people. It is no less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. Singling out Israel for allegedly mistreating the Palestinians while at the same time not covering how the barbaric conduct and atrocities of many dictatorial regimes in the world affect their children reveals your anti-Semitism.

You “urge educators to join together to create curriculum on Israel-Palestine that looks deeply and honestly at the roots of the crisis and the prospect for peace.” A good start would be to stop publishing such extremely biased reporting on the conflict.

Katalin Baltimore
Orange, Connecticut

The editors respond:

One of the tragic ironies of Israel’s occupation of Palestine is that people who agree about so much—including protecting and transforming our public schools—are in such conflict about this issue. But opposition to Israeli strategies and goals is not anti-Semitism. Our editorial was based on our principles respecting human rights and the need to nurture all children.

In our editorial, we noted the impact of last summer’s assault on Gaza in terms of human life, education, water, and infrastructure. The situation remains dire. Improving conditions for the Palestinians of Gaza will only be possible when Israel lifts the blockade, which makes it impossible to rebuild infrastructure, the economy, and people’s lives. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations are clear that the blockade constitutes illegal collective punishment under international law.

The United States provides $3 billion a year in military assistance to Israel, as well as blocking every attempt in the United Nations to support Palestinian rights to self-determination, so this is very much our concern.  

What About Single Mothers?

I was pleased to see Willow McCormick’s article about the destructive, domineering image of the nuclear family in children’s books (“Disarming the Nuclear Family: Creating a Classroom Book that Reflects the Class,” summer 2014). With satisfaction and excitement I searched for stories and references to the other most common family in the United States, the single mother family living in poverty. Imagine my surprise when I found you referring to gay and lesbian families, surely a small minority, more frequently than single mom families in poverty. In fact, I only found one child who came from a single-mom family. That is bizarre to me and my sister activists, since in most big cities the majority of kids live in families headed by single moms. Are we single moms still so stigmatized that even a dedicated teacher like you can so easily overlook us? Please consider including our huge population in future educational writing and teaching

Pat Gowens
Director, Welfare Warriors
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Willow McCormick responds:

My experience growing up in a working class, single-parent household greatly influenced the unit of study I outlined in my article. I actively work to keep my students from experiencing the “otherness” that I felt in school. The book my class created reflected their unique family experiences; another class, another year, would have completely different stories to tell. That year I happened to have very few single-parent households. No one book or article can fully capture the richness and variety of family structures in our society. We need more, many more resources that feature and normalize nontraditional families. Kuklin’s book and, I’d like to think, my article are steps in that direction.