Struggling Toward Humanization: Restorative Justice, Deeper Learning, and the Pursuit of Transformed Relationships at an Urban Charter School
CitationFine, Sarah M. 2017. Struggling Toward Humanization: Restorative Justice, Deeper Learning, and the Pursuit of Transformed Relationships at an Urban Charter School. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractAs the twenty-first century hurtles forward, a growing number of American schools have set their sights on ambitious instructional goals—goals which go beyond basic literacy and numeracy to involve “deeper” competencies such as critical thinking and creative problem-solving. At the same time, in response to data demonstrating that youth of color tend to experience disproportionate rates of detention, suspension, and expulsion, many schools are also striving to replace zero tolerance policies with more equitable and inclusive approaches to discipline. In this dissertation, I focus on a former “No Excuses” charter school which recently made commitments to both of these aspirations. Specifically, I employ a range of ethnographic methods to explore and narratively interpret the work of a group of leaders who are engaged in an effort to transform the teaching, learning, and broader culture of their four-campus school in light of its new vision—a vision which marries the goal of supporting deeper learning in classrooms with the goal of reorganizing school culture around the philosophy and practices of restorative justice. Taking a phenomenological approach, I focus on the experiences and sense-making of these leaders as they strive to enact this new vision through their work with each other, with teachers, and with students. The study sheds light on the affordances and dilemmas associated with applying the restorative justice framework to situations of leadership as well as to instances of instructional practice. More broadly, it suggests that successfully transforming schools into more equitable, humanizing, and intellectually vital institutions requires educators to conceptualize culture and instruction as interrelated and mutually supportive entities—an argument which challenges some of the dominant perspectives and structures in the field.
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