The Latest Education Fad Inverts Justice

Something subtle and disturbing is happening under parents' radar.  Growing numbers of progressive educators are twisting a four-thousand-year-old concept in order to induce schoolchildren to adopt amoral worldviews.  A trend gathering steam nationwide teaches conflict resolution based on "restorative justice."   Though traditionally applied in criminal situations, progressives are adapting the technique to the classroom.

Restorative justice is no new concept.  Dating to two millennia B.C., the original approach eschewed a generic legal code, downplayed government-administered punishment, and encouraged victimizers to make amends to victims.  Offenders apologized and did whatever was necessary to make up for the offenses. 

But now across America, as in Seattle's Small Schools Project, educators are selling restorative justice as "a radically different approach to school discipline/classroom management."  The approach is especially contorted in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The school district's website doesn't define restorative justice but states that students are taught "team building, conflict resolution, mediation, intrapersonal and interpersonal skills" in order to, among other objectives, engender "respect for everyone involved" in conflicts.  A Santa Fe Restorative Justice Coordinator described the approach as "an alternative to traditional school discipline" that "involves all [conflict] participants" and "focuses on repairing harm."

High-minded intent.  But any disciplinary "alternative" that puts "respect" for miscreants on par with justice for victims warps the very concept of justice.  Coercing mistreated Ramon into respecting an abusive Joseph deals Ramon an injustice. 

Indeed, the Santa Fe approach is divorced from justice.  Mary Louise Romero calls her Santa Fe High School restorative justice class "an open house for the heart" in which children find "a connection to a deeper place."  In one exercise, Romero encourages victims and bullies alike to "share" feelings of "loss, happiness, love, heartbreak, being misunderstood, being alive and so on."  Having overseen a program aimed at helping young people and reducing juvenile crime, Romero seems sincerely motivated.  But fanciful notions that morally equate victimizers and victims aren't likely to discourage victimization.  Santa Fe-style restorative justice is about nonjudgmentalism, not justice.

In a similarly progressive vein, a Multnomah County Oregon restorative justice program touts principles that "emphasize healing over punishment, inclusion over exclusion, and individual accountability with a high level of community support."  In Chicago, the Power-PAC Elementary Justice Committee claims that restorative justice balances "the needs of the community, the victim and the offender by involving the community in figuring out how to repair the damage done."  In Colorado, enthusiasts dedicated to "healing relationships" champion "community circles" to build a "restorative path" for formerly incarcerated criminals. 

These approaches are designed for failure.  It is flat-out dishonest to teach children that the world doesn't judge, but instead waits patiently for emotional "healing" to occur.  Conditioning victims to be sympathetic to the "needs" of offenders is breathtakingly abusive to the victims.  Silliest of all, promoting "community circles" to create a "restorative path" for lost souls constitutes otherworldly nonsense.

But the world envisioned by progressives is filled with morality plays that mock truth and common sense.  The mockery centers on denying two facts: that genuinely nasty people walk among the good and that the two camps are morally light years apart. 

The denial practiced by self-anointed visionaries can assume spectacular form.  In an exhibition of naïveté, a San Francisco law enforcement agency decrees that restorative justice develops and strengthens "empathy skills in order to allow offenders to confront the effects of their crimes."  But reality dooms the approach.

Researchers Stanton Samenow and Samuel Yochelson determined that criminals commit at least fifty-two thought errors, acting out of malice and rejecting decent choices.[1]  Samenow interviewed thousands of criminals, concluding that "no matter how bizarre or repugnant the crime, [the criminal] is rational, calculating, and deliberate..."  Samenow observed, "When you think of how these people react, how their patterns go back to age 3 or 4, there isn't anything to rehabilitate."[2]  Even the most liberal doses of restorative justice cannot eliminate aspects of human nature that predispose some individuals to unreformable behavior.

In One Nation under Therapy, Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel discuss findings that can be used to bridge Samenow's and Yochelson's work into the school environment.  Young people are not "improved by educators" who are "obsessed with the mission of boosting children's self-esteem," write Sommers and Satel.  In fact, "unmerited self-esteem" can produce "antisocial behavior -- even criminality."[3]   Furthermore: 

Healthy young people are shortchanged, even endangered, when the adults in their lives take the view that what is most important is to keep them free from stress, free from self doubt, and happy in their conviction that they should be judged by no one's standards but their own.[4]

Sirens should blare in parents' heads when restorative justice zealots tell children to believe that no emotion, no matter how despicable, should be judged. 

Besides eroding judgment skills, "helping" programs such as Santa Fe's perversion of restorative justice also waste taxpayer money on "teaching" the obvious.  After a Santa Fe High School "sharing" session, a student remarked, "It proves that people don't always show their emotions on the outside, but they feel on the inside."  Yes, since the dawn of our species people have suppressed certain emotions.  Any honest, rational student of human nature would be concerned that restorative justice-style group-hugs might surface and sanction all emotions as morally equal and paint bad actors as deserving of forgiveness simply for "sharing" and "apologizing."

Sadly, in-school restorative justice programs are far from exclusive to Santa Fe.  A restorative justice coordinator in Colorado, which hosted a summit for advocates of the technique, calls the state "the Mecca for youth-led restorative justice."  The technique has also deeply invaded schools in the Northeast, on the West Coast, in Minnesota and Illinois. (Links to resources describing school and community restorative programs provided here.) 

What will come of a generation taught that the world should judge no action and readily forgive nastiness?  The question demands clear thinking. Yet throughout America, restorative justice is increasingly shaping children in ways destined to hatch chilling answers.

In New York City; Teton County, Wyoming; Denver, Colorado; South Duxbury, Vermont; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pendleton, South Carolina; Miami, Florida; and in Santa Fe, restorative justice zealots are urging children to harshly judge no action and forgive offenders who have intentionally inflicted harm. 

If not stopped, school-based "restorative justice" will cast yet another generation morally adrift, but this time like 1960s flower children on steroids. America will have to deal with widespread societal implications.

A writer, physicist, former high tech executive, and Cajun, Chuck Rogér invites you to sign up to receive his "Clear Thinking" blog posts by email at Contact Chuck at 

[1] Samuel Yochelson and Stanton E. Samenow, The Criminal Personality, Vols. I, II, III, New York: Jason Aronson, 1976, 1977, 1986; cited in Morgan O. Reynolds, "Does Punishment Deter?," National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Backgrounder, #148, Aug 17, 1998.

[2] Morgan O. Reynolds, "Crime by Choice: An Economic Analysis," Fisher Inst, p. 67, 1985; cited in Morgan O. Reynolds, "Does Punishment Deter?," National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Backgrounder, #148, Aug 17, 1998.

[3] Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, One Nation Under Therapy, St. Martin's Press, 2005, p 6.

[4] Ibid, p 25.