Restorative Education: The Case for Stopping the Madness in Education

Written by Lasha Pierce MD

Education is one of those flagship social issues in any society, like poverty or healthcare. The topic of education is especially loaded in the context of the African American community, which brings up the case for Restorative Education. So what is it?

Restorative means having the ability to restore health, strength or a feeling of well being. Education is the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction- An enlightening experience.

So what needs healing for African American children in terms of education? Well, let’s examine the history in this country:

  • Reading/Learning prohibited to African American people and punishable by beating, dismemberment or death (Slavery Era)
  • Jim Crow Laws -Separate and UnEqual (Reconstruction period thru 1960’s)
  • Evolution of African American Institutions of Learning (Post Civil War Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCU’s) by necessity.
  • Federally mandated Integration (Brown versus Board of Education 1954) 60+ years ago
  • In response to poor outcomes for African American children, the Black Panther Party started free early childhood education and nutrition programs for young children. The program helped our understanding of how early childhood education can impact future success and inspired the start of government-funded Head Start Programs nationally.
  • White resistance (Gerrymandering, Red-lining) and other covert attempts to continue segregation. (Still Ongoing). This contributes to unequal school funding as well.
  • Education is and always has been taught in a Eurocentric framework: texts center the world experiences and great contributions to humankind as Euro/White. Other peoples, perspectives, contributions are treated as cursory mentions. Specifically, the African cultures, perspectives, contributions are presented as backward, ugly and savage.
  • Over 80% of Teachers and Principals in this country are White (despite approximately 50% of the student population being White). African American students learn best when there is a high-quality teacher-student relationship, however implicit bias against the African American student, family, community, and history may make this high-quality relationship difficult to obtain.

What are the Potential Implications?

1) There is a persistent achievement gap between African American children and White children in part due to a historical and ongoing, noxious, unequal distribution of resources.

2) There is collective memory and persistent trauma stemming from White violence against African American students around education within the African American community.

3) African American students may see education as a “White” privilege, thus making African American students perceive themselves as undeserving and incapable.

4) African American students may experience feelings of shame due to their apparent educational disadvantage- which can lead to withdrawal, aggression, avoidance and self sabotage.

The learning difficulties that can be evident in traumatized children are well documented. Can chronic, consistent institutionalized racism be traumatic? Certainly. Can psychological abuse and neglect in the form of aggressive disciplinary policies, emotional neglect by being perpetually “other” and chronic cultural bias and disrespect be traumatic? Most Certainly.

Restorative Education must:

  • Give students, as well as their families, teachers, administrators and the community, the knowledge, understanding and tools to identify and combat Institutional Racism, specifically as it pertains to education.
  • Give students, their families and educators the knowledge, understanding and tools to identify students’ emotional responses to past harms inflicted through the educational system, to effectively teach students how to dismantle harmful responses and to re-teach healthy ways to address those feelings.
  • Give students permission to give critical feedback to teachers and administrators, and give them the language tools to do so effectively.
  • Give students unencumbered access to high quality schools and education. This includes schools with ample resources (financial, personnel, real estate), as well as a commitment to dismantling institutionalized racism in all of it’s forms (including textbooks that acknowledge the humanity of African peoples, hiring practices to ensure ample number of African American educators and administrators, and normalizing the African personality).

Critical components:

  • Restorative Circles and Restorative Conferences allow students, educators and their respective family members and friends to come together to explore how everyone has been affected by an issue, offense or policy and, when possible, to decide how to repair the harm and meet their own needs.
  • Opportunities for students to share their feelings, build relationships and solve problems, and when there is wrongdoing, to play an active role in addressing the wrong and making things right.
  • Reparations (making amends or helping those who have been wronged). This can take the form of community partners, businesses, colleges, non-profits, philanthropists and/or local, state and national governments donating time, space, money or other resources toward the goal of repairing harm done to African American students thru past educational neglect.
  • Achieving Reconciliation. (Making the ideal of excellence in education compatible with the image of the African American student).
  • Promoting the Responsive Classroom. This approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach:
  1. The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn.
  3. Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach — individually, culturally, and developmentally — is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach is as important as knowing the children we teach.
  7. How we, the adults at school, work together is as important as our individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.

Restorative education is the ground breaking, healing philosophy of our time. It has the potential to heal communities, improve mental health of survivors of educational neglect and improve community health and economic outcomes.

Learn more about the Academy For Restorative Education by visiting our website.



Academy For Restorative Education (AFRE)

We aid in the development and support of specific, proven and meaningful educational models to close the academic and economic achievement gaps in our country.