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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