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

From: Terence Purtell <>
Date: Wed May 17 15:58:00 2006

By "teaching a person to live a better life," I was promoting neither positive law (law that tells people what to do) nor negative law (law that tells people what not to do). "Morals" was a poor choice of terms on my part, because I didn't even want to bring rules into the picture one way or the other.
  What I meant was that, if we have some sort of strategy that helps a criminal learn not to commit the same harm in the future (and to voluntarily not commit the same harm), then we'd have an effective method of justice with long-lasting results. But this method would not even involve rules. It would rather involve long discussions until everybody comes to terms and empathizes and voluntarily makes up.
  The one disagreement may be that I'm a bit more idealistic--or more naive, if you prefer--than Scott. I think the purpose of justice is education--not necessarily about morals, but about how to interact with people and our environment. I think justice should make us smarter and more perceptive, just as school should.
  Scott, on the other hand, thinks (and if I'm wrong, my apologies) that the purpose of justice is to "get past" isolated incidents so that both parties can move on with their lives. According to him justice has no power whatsoever to teach, whether by violence, moral dictums, discussing, or otherwise.
  Did I state the argument correctly? Am I too high in the sky about justice's ability to make us smarter people, or is Scott's outlook on justice too modest?
Scott David Gray <> wrote:
  On 5/17/06, Terence Purtell wrote:
> 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.

You say that the best sort of justice teaches a person how to
live a better life?
I disagree.

When the state starts telling people how to live -- as opposed to
simply saying in answer to a crime "*that* is an example of how you
are *not* allowed to live in our society" -- then the state has
abandoned pluralism, and become a state that seeks to control its
members rather than to exist at their will.

There are two kinds of law. One kind is the sort that tells you
what *not* to do, and the other is the sort that tells one expressly
what *to* do.
The first sort of law -- "negative" law -- is often in harmony
with liberty -- it exists to keep one person's liberty from imposing
unduly on another person's liberty. The second sort, however, is
onerous and demanding, and destructive to liberty.
The notion of law that dictates what *to* do, is certainly at the
core of what most educators do. It is also at the heart of law in such
places as North Korea, Modern China, and the Soviet Union. It is
destructive, dehumanizing, and unamerican.

The notion of law that only intervenes to stop something
untoward, and then lets the person decide for themselves how to
navigate the society, is the a notion of law in harmony with deep US
culture, and with Sudbury schools.

Certainly in Sudbury schools, none of us who ever serve on JC
have any illusions that the sentences we pass will "teach" morals.
Perhaps the human process of thinking and navigating our justice
system plays a role for some kids, but the sentences themselves don't.
Rather, the main value of our sentences is that they offer a path
to the person who broke the community's trust in this or that way, to
gain that trust back.

Being restricted from the playroom for two days after using
someone's toy without permission doesn't teach the value of respecting
personal property. Frankly, every healthy four year old already
*knows* that people don't like their stuff messed with! But standing
up, admitting what you did, and agreeing to pay a social cost (e.g.
staying out of the Playroom for two days) makes it a lot easier to get
*past* the incident, and for you and the person who was offended by
the incident to forgive and forget, and move on.
Learning happens, at best, accidentally. As an aside to thinking
and mulling questions about social responsibility and justice. In
one's own mind. A free society seeks only to chastise for bad
behavior, and not to change minds -- leaving the mind as the private
domain of the individual.

> Forcing the thief to compensate for what was stolen won't teach the thief
> anything.

That's probably right. But compensation is a necessary first
start, though, for justice -- for a means of letting people who have
broken social codes win back a sense of trust. There's no way that I
will *ever* trust a person who stole from me and *didn't* pay me back,
regardless of how many damn lectures were given to her/him by the
prison warden!

> 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
> 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
> prevails.
> 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
> actions.
> 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
> solutions.
> For a more detailed account of positive suggestions
> please visit my blog:

-- Scott David Gray
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Received on Wed May 17 2006 - 15:57:44 EDT

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