Thoughtful exchange can seem in short supply. But the power of what happens when people talk things through, rather than leap into battle, continues to surface.
Take two contrasting stories, both involving schools and Black students.
In Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish, fourth grader Ka Mauri Harrison, who attends school virtually, was taking a test at home when his teacher, observing through the computer's camera, briefly caught sight of a BB gun he moved aside after his brother tripped on it. The teacher filed a report recommending expulsion for violating school weapons policy. That became a six-day suspension. But the hard-line reaction has yielded an investigation by the attorney general, the threat of a suit by the Harrison family, and a young student caught in a heartbreaking firestorm.
Then there's the experience of Rainier Harris, a senior at Regis, a top Roman Catholic high school in Manhattan. He wrote in The New York Times about the painful “casual racism” he experienced there. But then he described a shift that gave him hope.
Last spring, a teacher overheard him venting and asked for names. But instead of expulsions, this time Regis turned to restorative justice. That method “inspires solutions that achieve value and respect for everyone,” Rainier wrote. “It forces an institution to look at community-oriented solutions that make everybody uncomfortable, not just those who are involved. But it’s the only way real change can be made.”
Educators facilitated conversations between Rainier and one offender, a former friend, who apologized. “It felt like progress,” Rainier wrote, “as if I actually made a difference in his life.”