Restorative Justice, Civic Education, and Transformative Possibilities

Published date01 January 2023
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/00027162231188566
AuthorMaisha T. Winn
Date01 January 2023
Subject MatterClassroom Climate for Civic Development
156 ANNALS, AAPSS, 705, January 2023
DOI: 10.1177/00027162231188566
Restorative
Justice, Civic
Education, and
Transformative
Possibilities
By
MAISHA T. WINN
1188566ANN THE ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMYRESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND TRANSFORMATIVE POSSIBILITIES
research-article2023
Around the country, schools are using restorative jus-
tice circles as an approach to conflict resolution among
students. This group work focuses on listening and
speaking, knowledge sharing, and problem solving; and
as such, it serves as an ideal space for civic education. I
offer a vision of restorative justice practice in schools
that emphasizes its potential to create social networks
that are foundational to civic education. I draw on my
experience as a restorative justice theorist and practi-
tioner and on data collected from a midwestern high
school that trained students in restorative justice theory
and practice to show how restorative justice processes
can be leveraged to support civic education. I posit that
if learning communities practice fidelity to restorative
justice theory and circle processes, they can support
youth in becoming agents of civic change with experi-
ence as active community stakeholders, reflective lis-
teners, and leaders.
Keywords: restorative justice; transformative justice;
civic education; interdisciplinary
As I entered the middle school classroom,
my eyes went directly to a boy—African
American—whose face was mostly hidden
behind a Walter Dean Myers young adult
novel, Monster. Chairs were set up in a circle as
the teacher prepared to facilitate a restorative
justice (RJ) community-building circle.
Students entered noisily, and the novice
teacher—young, white, male—was facing away
from the door and fiddling with a projector. I
Maisha T. Winn is Chancellor’s Leadership Professor
at the University of California, Davis, School of
Education and codirector of the Transformative Justice
in Education Center (TJE). In her multidisciplinary
research, she examines cognitive dimensions of literate
practices, the micro-level/interactional processes
through which knowledge is constructed, and the
socialization functions that take place through peer
relations and adult-youth relations in organized
settings.
Correspondence: mtwinn@ucdavis.edu
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND TRANSFORMATIVE POSSIBILITIES 157
was a participant observer learning with and from a large midwestern school
district’s RJ team, a role that included providing feedback to educators and code-
signing opportunities to integrate RJ—that is, relational approaches to teaching
and learning that promote consensus building and shared responsibility—into
various academic disciplines (Winn and Winn 2021). A few minutes after the bell
rang, the teacher turned around to announce that the class would be participating
in a RJ circle—a strategy employed by RJ practitioners to create community
through proximity with stakeholders. About six students created a sitting arrange-
ment adjacent to the larger circle. The boy immersed in Monster continued to
read without looking up, even as the sound level in the room rose. Once the
projector started working, a list of 100 words appeared on the screen. “Please
choose one of the words to describe your mood from this list,” the teacher began.
He was interrupted by the principal’s announcement over the loudspeaker that
staff would be conducting “hallway sweeps,” and any students not in their class-
room would receive “mandatory detention.” Ignoring the group of students, the
teacher addressed the boy with the book: “Put the book down in the circle and
pay attention or I will send you out.” Seemingly startled by the abrupt directive,
the boy stared at the teacher and looked around the circle as his classmates finally
quieted themselves and turned their attention to this confrontation. The boy
mumbled a few words under his breath; set his book down; and, when he was
handed the talking piece—an object that is used as an invitation to speak—to
take his turn, he effectively opted out by stating, “Pass.”
In a meeting following this observation, my colleagues and I processed what
we had witnessed. One thought I had was how RJ circle processes—and the cir-
cle that I had observed—can provide a unique opportunity to amplify and elevate
student ideas. In what ways, for example, could the teacher have leveraged the
process to engage the young reader in the circle? Perhaps when the talking piece
made its way to the young reader, the teacher could have invited him to talk
about why he found that novel captivating. In a classroom where the majority of
the students were African American, Latinx, immigrants from Somalia, and
working-class white, could the teacher have been more cognizant of the per-
ceived power dymanics and led the circle with an invitation as opposed to a
reprimand? How could the circle process build a bridge to the novel’s theme—an
African American boy processing how he is being portrayed (as a monster) during
a trial versus who he knows himself to be (fully human and vulnerable)? Finally,
how could teachers in this district and elsewhere cultivate opportunities for all
students to use circles to build on each other’s ideas to generate knowledge, while
simultaneously building foundations of empathy and civic responsibility?
Here, I make the case that the processes of a RJ circle have the potential to
engage young learners in powerful acts of individual and collective futuring,
situating and valuing them as civic actors who reflect on and discuss realities
of—and possibilities for—equity and justice. I will examine data collected from
a high school in the Midwest in which students were trained in RJ theory and
practice, with fresh focus on bridging civic reasoning and discourse and specific
practices of RJ. Ultimately, I argue that facilitating students’ engagement in

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