07- Education as a Mechanism for Restorative Justice Via Critical Race Theory

Primary Author

Alicia M Moreno

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Zaid Haddad

Additional Mentor(s)

Dr. Guadalupe Carmona, Dr. Anne Marie Ryan


The first place that we learn who we are and who everyone else is in relation to us is at home. But perhaps the most significant reinforcement of or argument against that knowledge happens in school. (Erikson, 1950) Students in the United States spend 7-10 hours per day, 5 days per week – at least as much time as an employee spends at work – in public or private institutes of education from Preschool to 12th grade. While teaching history is woven through all subjects taught in primary and secondary school, Social Studies and History classes are particularly subject to bias in their approach to recounting historical behaviors, human and civil rights violations, and systemic inequities that lead to those personal paradigms, sense of self (identity), and initial construction of social stratification. (Ginocchio, 1982) There is evidence to suggest that what we teach and the manner in which we teach it – including partial histories, whitewashed, genderwashed, and straightwashed histories, and histories with long-term impacts minimized – have led to generations individual and collective identity confusion and have masked the underpinnings of systemic inequities in our country. (Ortiz, Tarasawa, Al-Musaifry, Trimble, & Straton, 2018) A leading question in curriculum construction – from lesson planning to assessment – is how to approach the difficult and uncomfortable concepts of responsibility and reconciliation.

One of the theoretical frameworks for sociological and historical research that was spawned by the events of World War II and the Holocaust was the concept of collective guilt. (Jung, 2014) While this concept continues to garner research applications, it is still considered a young area of study, especially where it overlaps education. As a practice, collective guilt offers the victim the opportunity to see the offender take responsibility for the legal or moral wrong, but it does little else to address the bad act or prevent its repeat. Perhaps even more damaging, collective guilt seems to have a short generational “expiration date,” wherein once the cohort who was responsible for (or was at least alive for) the bad acts dies out, the larger community connection to the behavior is diminished. Regardless of these shortcomings, it has been used as the global ideal to punish past and educate future generations of Germans about the cause and effect of targeted genocide before and during World War II and, to a degree, in the United States to account for our own atrocities.
Eclipsing this model is the recent resurgence of the notion of restorative justice, utilized in the early 1970s in an innovative way to approach criminal justice and social reform. (Zehr, 2003) While restorative justice was initially used prior to, during, and after a courtroom or tribal hearing, it has made its way to other applications, including internal family dialogues and class or school conversations surrounding individual or collective behavior. Restorative justice, however, should be considered as more than a post-crime solution; it has the opportunity to be the newest framework of curriculum construction in P-12 education, especially where history text construction addresses human and civil rights violations in the United States.
Though the standard in criminal justice prior to the Norman Conquest, restorative justice was shelved in favor of other practices that made crimes a matter of fealty – or a crime against the king – instead of a crime against a victim or community. This change of thought not only diminishes the victim impact, it colonizes and claims ownership over a people in ways that remove personhood and agency by denying opportunities for healing, forgiveness, and growth of social policy. (Braithwaite, 1999) This practice considers accounting and atonement as equal actions and it has contributed to the broad and unequal harm of People of Color by way of the criminal justice system. With more than 25 times the number of “incarcerated”, P-12 Students of Color in the U.S. experience the same multigenerational harm in school as per the concept of Education Debt. (Ladson-Billings, 1995) In From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools, the Education Debt is considered from the historical, sociopolitical, economic, and moral views, with the common thread of the lack of resources – financial, physical, social, and intellectual – that has led to race being the only gap not closing in education.

This literature review is in advance of a larger research study. I am using Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a theoretical framework to consider the alignment of tenants of CRT and Restorative Justice. Both take into account aspects of justice and the notion of legality. Critical Race Theory is a set of ideals constructed by civil rights and social justice activists and examines the intersection of law and race to uncover systemic disparities that perpetuate privilege and subjugation. (Hiraldo, 2010) The tenants of CRT are counter-storytelling, the permanence of racism, Whiteness as property, interest conversion, and the critique of liberalism. This literature review looks to define restorative justice, considers its applications, and contemplates whether an expansion of that application to educational pedagogy would still meet the veracity of the definition and support the goals of CRT. While CRT has well established applications in education, Restorative Justice does not.


1 thought on “07- Education as a Mechanism for Restorative Justice Via Critical Race Theory”

  1. Great display of the slide presentation and audio. You did an excellent job of explain the need biases that have existed in our education system but I was not sure of how theme 2 and 3 were tied together. I do like that you are starting this processes and can’t wait to see the findings for application.

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