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Abstract

Beginning in the late twentieth century, a surge in school violence associated with racism and urban poverty has sparked increased use of punitive approaches to school discipline, and these high-stakes approaches have become normalized in school districts nationwide. “Discipline” at the classroom and school level, understood as the procedures and interactions between students and teacher surrounding behaviors deemed inappropriate, have historically been grouped into two domains: punitive discipline and restorative justice. Punitive justice methods increased their domination in urban classrooms throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s but in the last decade or so, a new wave of conflict-resolution-based discipline has emerged in the form of restorative justice practices. In this paper, I will outline the pedagogical bases and development of each approach and, based on data and scholarly analysis, contend that restorative justice techniques are more effective in lowering instances of misconduct and creating a successful learning environment. I will present statistics on the effect and success levels of each, as well as case studies exemplifying the implementation of each discipline strategy. In my analysis of punitive discipline, I will, in part, focus specifically on the argument that these policies are particularly detrimental to boys of color. I will then pose the question: If the research is so conclusive, why aren’t more schools transitioning from punitive discipline to restorative justice techniques? I argue that the foremost barriers to this transition are an ill-placed emphasis on safety in schools, and an unfounded perception of racial threat to order in the classroom.

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