#RFBookClub Book Review: Creating Restorative Schools by Martha A. Brown
By Adrien E. Doucet
Blog Editor: Mark Barry
Creating Restorative Schools by Martha A. Brown is a comprehensive overview and guide for shifting school cultures away from punitive structures and towards a framework for school communities that are inspired by and honour the philosophies of restorative justice.
Brown examines restorative justice in education (RJE) as an entire philosophy and paradigm shift from current school systems that she describes as being marred by policies that seek to control students often perpetuating further harms, especially to marginalized populations like African-American male youth. Brown explores two middle schools in Oakland, CA, under the pseudonyms Davis and Grant, both at various stages of implementing school-wide restorative practices. The book offers insight into the process and the challenges to setting up restorative schools by providing background expertise, in-depth research analysis, and first-hand perspectives from those experiencing this fundamental transformation.
The case study of these two schools takes us through Brown’s research and doctoral dissertation which focuses on the two-part research question, “What is the relational ecology of urban middle schools adopting school-wide restorative practices (SWRPs), and what changes occur throughout the schools as a result of the reform implementation process?” (p. 274). Throughout the book, Brown weaves in and references the work of lead researchers, academics, and practitioners of RJE including Katherine Evans, Belinda Hopkins, Brenda Morrison, Kay Pranis, Nancy Riestenberg, and Dorothy Vaandering. Evans is assistant professor at Eastern Mennonite University where she helped establish and teaches graduate studies in RJE at EMU. Evans wrote the foreword for Creating Restorative Schools in which she commends Brown for her research and praises this book for its contribution to the field of RJE.
The book is divided into four main sections. The first section introduces the reader to the shift in school culture from punitive to restorative practices, to the problem of zero-tolerance policies, and to the principles of RJE. The second section paints an honest landscape of the communities, individuals, administrative structures, and physical layouts that make up Davis and Grant Middle Schools. Next, Brown describes the changes that occurred and were felt since these schools began implementing school-wide restorative practices. Last, Brown offers a list of twenty-seven recommendations and considerations - a map, as she calls it - for shifting schools to a restorative model. Brown focuses on the administration, the teachers, the students, as well as other key players, such as support staff and parents, providing the reader with an intimate and thorough look inside the walls of these schools working to creating restorative, equitable, and just spaces for all. The information provided includes interviews, observations, and analyses of survey data collected over the course of Brown’s research.
Two key strengths of the book are the manner in which excerpts of interviews from various participants are prioritized and the authenticity in which the struggles and challenges that arose throughout the study are included. Brown writes in a very clear and effective style making the book very accessible to readers who may be unfamiliar with the fields of education or restorative justice. Discourse in either area can be criticized as being bogged down with jargon. Brown navigates the specific language and terminology in a fashion suitable for both experienced researchers and academics as well as your everyday reader. Creating Restorative Schools is expertly conceived and reads more like a captivating novel than a piece of academic literature. Given the depth and comprehensive nature of the content explored and the overwhelmingly positive regard in which
it is held by those working in the field, Creating Restorative Schools can be seen as a seminal work on the topic of RJE. It is a must read for anyone interested in starting school-wide restorative practices.
Martha A. Brown is lead instructor for Simon Fraser University’s online Restorative Justice Certificate program and is adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University. She is an avid researcher and publisher in the field of RJE.