Justice

On the playground, efficient justice sometimes prevails. Hit me, I hit you back. And don’t be fooled by the tears. The picked-on kid cries not only because he gets hurt, but also because he hasn’t figured out his next move.

Grown-ups survive beyond the playground because they modify this direct approach. They either up the game and bring in bigger guns, or they change the game and embrace influence over force.

I was in the weeds on this question of justice this week. My goal was always to bring about fairness, but also to plant seeds for a deeper take on what fairness means.

For example, a fourth grade boy snuck into his classroom during recess and destroyed every student’s California Mission project by smashing them, pouring milk on them or whatever other opportunity presented. Would it surprise anyone to see the teacher, moments later, dragging that student by the arm to my office? And what kind of justice might this teacher want? What motivated his act and how could he restore balance?

Then came a kindergartner skilled at spitting. She managed to spit into another little girl’s mouth from five feet away. What might you imagine the victim’s father had to say when he came to my office? I protected the spitter identity and said that she wasn’t in school that day. The father said he’d be back.

On or off the playground, where does the balance come? I hear the rumble of the mob gathering outside demanding that I take swift action. And what they mean is an eye for an eye – especially for other people’s kids. They wrapped their rage in phrases like “You need to send a message.” Or “Teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.”

Revenge isn’t the way and please don’t get confused about the difference between revenge and restoration. Call all things by their rightful names. And, if we want to offer a restorative path, how would you name the right steps? What happens when the injury to body or soul is a severe one? Please don’t talk to me about discipline and teaching if your form of teaching includes adding yet another injury.

Today, I called in a boy, a girl, and their parents. He had pushed her off of the high bar and she had landed so as to break her arm. I asked the boy to make a written and a spoken apology to the girl, to her mother, and her father. I left it to the father of the injured girl to forgive or not.

A risk, but it worked. The arm is in a caste, but justice will help the healing.

Such thoughts as these are running through my mind I look out my office door to see a fifth grader who was sent to me for the tenth time because he calls a classmate a “fatso.” I want him to hurt as she has for what he has done. He may feel nothing.

Justice, unlike vengeance, is not swift. It requires reflection about the causes that lead to a harmful act. It required reflection about intention. And, it requires an eye to the long game. If take this step now, how will that shift my direction in the weeks and months ahead.

Right work. Healing work. One child at a time.

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6 Responses to Justice

  1. JJ June 28, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Greg,

    Mention bullying to a group of parents and I imagine you will get quite a discussion going.
    Since you are in a unique position, I will ask. What did you do to help the fat girl? The bully got your attention but what guidance she receive? I’m sure you did something, and I for one would benefit from advice on how to assist.

    Thanks!

    JJ

  2. Albert February 9, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Principal John, you’re one of a hell of a writer. What shows the most, for me, is your huge heart and your ability to weave the artistry in and out and around the tapestry to draw your reader into a more spiritual or philosophical perspective. I must confess I don’t read all of your blog posts, but I never in my life had to read a book cover to cover to know what it’s all about.

  3. Kay February 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Once again you inspire me to deep thought and the fine art of education.

    Thank you!

  4. Charles February 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Excellent essay. Incisive.

  5. Sylvaine June 24, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Hi Greg… that was a bit intense to have a peek into one of your work day… Taking a deep breath once in a while is good.

  6. Rusty June 24, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    For me, this is where balance comes when injury is severe……..

    Skillful Attitudes

    Skillful attitudes of mind are the key to facing potentially explosive situations and the ongoing highs and lows of life and practice. In fact, recognizing these attitudes and cultivating their antidotes is the foundation for all spiritual growth. By cultivating skillful attitudes of mind, we will respond to more and more of life with awareness and wisdom. With steady awareness of the way things are, the perseverance to stay with that awareness, and the willingness to learn from it, we maximize our sense of well-being.

    – Steve Armstrong, “Got Attitude?”

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