Re: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Models of Justice

From: Terence Purtell <>
Date: Wed May 17 02:26:01 2006

This "justice" discussion provides a nice complement to a discussion about Sudbury. Since the best kind of justice results when we teach a criminal to live a better life--a point Phil was hinting at--it follows that principles of justice are equally guidelines that all educators should follow.
  I like Phil's 2 definitions of "justice": 1) revenge, eye for an eye; & 2) compensation, getting back your stolen goods with interest from the thief. Insofar as the purpose of justice is to keep crime at a minimum, then we need to determine whether either of these definitions works toward that end.
  It was contended that governments that take revenge "treat a human being as though they were a dumb animal". It was implied, I think, that revenge is an insult to our inherently higher intelligence because it doesn't TEACH morals. And if it succeeds in suppressing immoral acts, this suppression is only temporary. Ultimately Joe Schmo will kill me cause I killed his wife, and then my friend will kill Joe Schmo, etcetcetc, and we kill each other to infinity and no good is ever achieved. Fair enough, I agree: revenge = INjustice
  Phil went on to say that REAL justice occurs when the violator corrects the damage as well as possible. He used the example of the Montessori project and California judges who defer civil cases to arbitration (did I say that right???). In these examples, it was contended, criminals "learn by doing".
  I like this idea of criminals "learning" something. If we can a) get the thief to return stolen goods with interest and b) teach and convince her/him never to steal again: that is no doubt effective justice and we'll all be for the better! The problem is HOW do we teach a criminal to change. HOW can someone mediate between violator and victim such that damage is repaired and the violator actually learns to live a better life?
  Forcing the thief to compensate for what was stolen won't teach the thief anything. Moreover, appealing to the thief's intellect might not work if the thief still feels justified in stealing (like, say, ValJean). Ordering criminals around is, to use Phil's analogy, about as futile as that lady shoo-ing cats away from her precious glass: the freakin cats are just gonna come back when she's not looking. So I'm not entirely convinced that having a mediator or small-group arbitration is any more effective than plain ol revenge.
  There's something to this small-group idea though. People are more liable to be humane to one another when working together in close quarters. It's much harder to kill someone face-to-face who's pleading for dear life, than it is to drop bombs on faceless buildings from a plane. Personally I believe that, if we commit ourselves to having a patient discussion with whoever wronged us, it'll be for everyone's greater good. I usually feel better after a long frank discussion. Socializing, like writing, is how we get a grasp on our environment and, in so doing, we become wiser. In our courts, the two opponents don't really have any direct discussions, and there's something wrong with that. Let's follow this small-group-arbitration version of justice--maybe someone here's brave enough to outline how such arbitration should take place--and see what we come up with.
  These days we've come to think that physical force (like, ruler-slapping nuns) is no way to teach children in school. Much less do we believe that such force (like, spankings) should be used to teach children "lessons" at home. Yet we as a society still order children to do things that they'd be reluctant to do without our prodding, like memorizing vocabulary words for tests: which is something like ordering a criminal to make amends when she/he is reluctant to do so. Yes, our intentions to educate are wonderfully noble; but our usual methods probably stink. From what I can see, Sudbury is unique in that it doesn't order children to do things at all. To have effective justice we probably need such a system in which the criminal voluntarily makes recompense and changes for the better, in the same way that, at Sudbury, children voluntarily learn and mature. If the justice-education correlation is rightly placed, maybe Sudbury's methods can offer clues as to how we should
 deal with criminals. But again, as I stated before, HOW we go about enacting such an educative change in a criminal requires another night's worth of writing.
  I know very little about law and politics, much less about how schools like Sudbury work. So if I'm just beating an obvious issue to death or anything, please enlighten me so that I don't bore you in the future.
Phil Osborn <> wrote:
  I found the discussion of "Justice" from the ONLINE
LIBRARY of interest, as this is a field to which I've
devoted quite a bit of time. One cannot be an expert
at everything, of course, and the posted discussion
was cogent and well written, but is stuck in the
common views of "justice" that prevail and have
resulted in the U.S. having both the highest total
number and the highest percentage of people
incarcerated of any country in the world, and STILL a
high crime rate.

The main objection I have is to the idea of "criminal
justice" - punishments, etc. Even animals quickly
learn that a "punishment" simply means that they did
something you don't like. It teaches nothing, but,
more importantly, it has no relation to actual
justice. In fact, it creates more INjustice.

I define "justice" as getting what you deserve. I.e.,
if you are responsible for something, good or bad,
then you should be the beneficiary or loser. If
someone else chooses to block you from the benefits or
losses of your actions, then a situation of INjustice

It is then the moral responsibility of whoever
diverted justice to undo any damage done to you, in so
far as possible. When the damage is done to more than
one person, or to an organization of persons, such as
a school - as in, disrupting a stage play, for example
- then the principle is still the same. People have
been put into a state of injustice by someone else's

There is a reasonable compensation that should result,
essentially putting things back to where they were,
and the rational purpose of a judicial system is to
assure that this happens. This is the basis of the
Common Law, which has no criminal component.

When the state or the school's judicial body makes a
decision to "punish," rather than to set things back
to right, then justice is blocked. When they do both
- assigning restitution AND punishing, then they treat
a human being as though they were a dumb animal. If
things are set back to where they should be, then what
further cause does "justice" have?

My background: Briefly, I was involved with a group of
anarchists in the early '70's who created the area's
first Montessori School - with a difference. We set
up a school monetary system, on the cookie standard,
and contracted out the various jobs at the school to
the students, who ranged from 2.5 to 7 years old.

With the earned money, the kids could buy treats from
the school store, make deals between themselves over
toys, etc., and resolve disputes. Rather than have a
centralized judicial system, we encouraged the kids to
hire a mediator from among the other kids or the staff
when there was a dispute.

This system, I'm sure, sounds very mercenary to many,
but it took "justice" out of the realm of power,
violence and authority and put it squarely into the
Montessori domain of learning by doing, via corrective
feedback from reality, not a teacher. (Unfortunately,
one of the violations of the Montessori Method is its
own use of the directors as police, judge and jury, a
role that would be seen as completely in violation of
Montessori philosophy if applied to any other field.)

I should like to entertain discussion on this issue,
if anyone is intertested, as it seems to be at the
very heart of so many of our problems as a society,
and Sudbury appears to be a good place to think
through this kind of issue and possibly try alternate

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Received on Wed May 17 2006 - 02:25:16 EDT

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