Commentary and Criticism about the National Education Association
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The NEA Supports a “Kinder & Gentler” Solution to Ending Sexual Assault in the Classroom: “Restorative Justice”
DEFINING THE ISSUE
I spent the last couple of days reading articles on the NEA website related to three education topics:
1. The School-to-Prison Pipeline
2. Sexual Assault/Harassment in the Classroom
3. Restorative Justice
While each can certainly be studied in isolation, my contention is that there may be a unifying theme that binds them together.
Here is how I would express it in the form of a question:
Does the desire of the NEA to shut down the School-to-Prison-Pipeline by implementing Restorative Justice in schools play a role in the recent rise of Sexual Assault/Harassment in the Classroom?
I AM NOT SUGGESTING CAUSALITY
Before I begin my detailed analysis, I want to make one thing very clear. When I “connect the dots” in this posting, I am not claiming a 100% causal relationship. I am simply noting a possible connection that I wanted to share because I found it interesting. You may read the same articles that I did, sift through the same evidence and come to a totally different conclusion. You may decide that there is really no connection at all.
But I didn’t create the Anti-NEA blog in order to provide readers with a typical perspective on the NEA and its policies. If you want that, just stick with reading the union’s own website.
I should add that you can also get a moderate-to-liberal view on education policy by visiting dozens of other websites on the internet. Let's face it. There are many places you can go on the Web to read material which supports the NEA’s view of education.
The Anti-NEA Blog, however, exists to challenge NEA members and other interested readers to look at things differently. So if you are interested in a very different perspective, you are in for a treat with this blog post because it certainly fulfills that goal.
The Bottom Line: The more that I read about the three education topics mentioned above, the more strongly I felt that they were connected in a nefarious way. I started connecting the dots … and a dawning realization came over me.
THE FIRST DOT: Sexual Assault/Harassment in the Classroom
I was inspired to write this post after reading Cindy Long’s latest article “The Secret of Sexual Assault in Schools” which appeared on the NEA Today website on December 4, 2017.
Ms. Long noted that …
“… student-on-student sexual assault and harassment happens with alarming frequency in school bathrooms, on school playgrounds, and in the backs of school buses. It’s happening at every level of education from preK to college.”
More disturbing was the specific case of Esther Warkov’s daughter who was raped by a fellow classmate:
“It happened to Esther Warkov’s daughter, a student in Seattle public schools. In 2012, she was raped by a high school classmate--a boy who had previously been disciplined for sexual misconduct when he was in middle school—on a multi-day school field trip.” [underline and bold added]
My reaction when I first read this article was typical of most I am sure. I was upset that this was happening in our public schools – especially that it was being kept a secret. I was glad that the NEA was making this “secret” known to its members. After all, getting the information out in the open would mean that something could be done to stop it.
But as I read further into the article, my perspective changed. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that something else might be going on here.
THE SECOND DOT: The School-to-Prison Pipeline
The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a topic that I have discussed before.
Back in October, I shared my perspective in “The School to Prison Pipeline: Just Punishment for Disruptive Students or Unfair Attack on People of Color?”
In that post I complained that the NEA’s concern for ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline led to a bias in favor of the disruptive (bad) students at the expense of the regular (good) students. Concerned that disruptive students were being too harshly punished (suspended/expelled), the NEA recommended a more moderate approach to discipline. I criticized that approach as detrimental to the good kids whose education was being negatively affected by the disruption of students who didn’t belong in the classroom.
[NOTE: I have included an appendix to this blog post which provides extensive detail about the NEA’s support for ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline.]
With this still fresh in my mind, I read the following line from Long’s article. I quoted this earlier but it has specific relevance now. Pay particular attention to the underlined part:
“It happened to Esther Warkov’s daughter, a student in Seattle public schools. In 2012, she was raped by a high school classmate--a boy who had previously been disciplined for sexual misconduct when he was in middle school—on a multi-day school field trip.” [underline and bold added.]
I couldn’t help but think that Esther Warkov’s daughter might have been a victim of the NEA’s support for dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Was this boy treated with kid gloves out of fear that, if the punishment was too harsh, he might be put on the dreaded School-to-Prison Pipeline?
I don’t know the answer to this question and I don’t have any way of confirming this possibility. Nonetheless, the possible connection was established in my mind.
THE THIRD DOT: Restorative Justice
Restorative Justice refers to discipline without a punitive component.
When schools implement Restorative Justice Programs, the bad students are not punished in the traditional sense. Suspension and expulsion are frowned upon. Instead, students are encouraged
“… to come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing …”
Also, they are challenged …
“… to develop empathy for one another through talking circles led by facilitators…”
At least that is how the New York Times describes Restorative Justice.
NEA Today explains it in a similar fashion in its October 19, 2017 article “5 Ways to Support Restorative Justice”:
“School districts, including those in San Francisco, Houston and Denver, have replaced punitive disciplinary practices with restorative justice.”
Finally, an article by Ryan Wheeler (October 11, 2017) entitled “Suspensions Don’t Teach” explains it this way:
“Restorative practices—an alternative to punitive justice—keep kids in school, where they can learn how their behavior affects others.”
THE DOTS ARE CONNECTED – DIRECT EVIDENCE FROM THE NEA WEBSITE
At the start of this post I asked a question. Having connected the dots, I now want to rephrase this same question as a statement:
"The NEA's desire to shut down the School-to-Prison-Pipeline by implementing Restorative Justice in schools has probably played some role in the recent rise of Sexual Assault/Harassment in the Classroom."
But if you are still not convinced that I properly “connected the dots," you might want to check out the NEA’s Education Votes website. There you will find an article called “Oakland girls shine spotlight on sexual harassment and school board revamps its policy.”
In this article, Emma Mayerson talks about how to solve the sexual harassment problem in schools:
“Our overall goal is to help educators and their allies create a school climate in which all students feel safe--and to keep all students out of the school-prison-pipeline through the use of restorative practices.” [underline and bold added]
So it appears that the NEA, by way of Emma Mayerson, has inadvertently supported my thesis.
This “Oakland girls” article:
1. deals with Sexual Harassment: check
2. wants to keep students out of the School-to-Prison-Pipeline: check
3. makes the connection to Restorative Practices (i.e. Restorative Justice): check
Again, while I haven’t proven causality here, clearly my point of view has a certain degree of merit if the National Education Association features an article essentially confirming my opening question.
At the very least, it is food for thought.
After all, do we really want school administrators handing out "Get Out of Jail Free Cards" to students who actually deserve to be put on the School-to-Prison Pipeline?
APPENDIX: The NEA Supports Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline
The NEA has VERY strong feelings about the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
I did a search on the NEA website using the key word “school to prison pipeline.”
The result returned was 10 pages of articles (at least 100 in all) dealing with this issue.
Below you will find links to a handful of the articles from my search. The titles pretty much convey all that you need to know about the NEA’s position, but you are free to click through and actually read the details.
Let’s Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline
The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Time to Shut it Down
Freeing Schools from the School to Prison Pipeline
NEA Policy Statement on Discipline and the School to Prison Pipeline
Stemming the Flow of the School-to-Prison Pipeline
NEA Takes a Stand on the School-to-Prison Pipeline