‘Restorative Circles’ Are Feminine

Something else makes boys grow
Melissa Askew, Unsplash
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I agree with Robert Pondiscio in his article The Unexamined Rise of Therapeutic Education: How Social-emotional Learning Extends K–12 Education’s Reach into Students’ Lives and Expands Teachers’ Roles:

“…there is a risk, also too little acknowledged and discussed, that the increased focus on SEL fundamentally changes teachers’ responsibilities, forcing them into roles they may embrace reluctantly or not at all and that they are unqualified or unsuited to play, with potential negative consequences for students. As damaging to children as it might be for a teacher to perform poorly at teaching reading, math, or history, the effect of being a poor mental health professional could be even more dire.”

I also agree with Daniel Buck in his article Restorative circles are unethical and have no place in schools:

“If a student requires mental health services and wants to receive them from a trained counselor in the building, access is imperative.”

“What’s not appropriate—indeed, what may cause great psychological harm, while crossing several ethical lines—is to ask teachers to lead group therapy sessions with their students. It’s a terrible, patently unethical idea that should be abandoned, the sooner the better.”

I strongly encourage you to read both of those articles. I don’t believe that teachers should be larping as psychologists, and I think those two gentlemen make a better case for why that’s a bad idea than I could.

However, I’d also like to acknowledge that “restorative circles” specifically (e.g. Post-altercation, students sit in a circle with a bunch of adults, pass a “talking stick”, and talk about their feelings, as an alternative to more punitive punishments) is a feminine approach to reconciliation.

If you google “restorative circle,” you get a bunch of websites telling you how to make the space feel safe and welcoming for students. Boys don’t need or want “safety” (or, at least, safety is not at the top of their value hierarchy). Boys need to achieve in the face of physical challenges as well as physical dangers. There’s a reason why there are so many sports and military movies where groups of boys or men hate each other, but then bond over the shared task, often in brutal, physically demanding, unsafe conditions. 

The first time I heard of the concept of a “restorative circle” I literally laughed out loud. This was years ago, and it didn’t even register why I found it funny until yesterday. At my prior placement, in a school made up entirely of immigrants, we had several altercations between Arabic speaking boys and Spanish speaking boys. Shockingly, the endless train of restorative circles had no restorative effect. These were very masculine boys – sitting in a circle and responding to open-ended questions about how such-and-such made them feel was adding the additional foreign language of femininity on top of the foreign language of English. It did nothing.

I’m not saying that only women should talk about their feelings or that feminine approaches to situations only work with women. What I am saying is that there is such a thing as masculine and feminine, and that for most boys (and some girls), most of the time (but not all of the time), masculine approaches work somewhat better, and vice-versa. Apparently 74% of all K-12 teachers are female so it makes perfect sense that there would be (to borrow an awful phrase) an “unconscious bias” in how altercations between students are handled. 

I don’t have a perfect, well-constructed answer, but I have a general one. Boys and men are side-by-side creatures, not face-to-face. We need a serious, important, somewhat dangerous task, with a physical component. If you have some boys who have an issue with each other, then you need to devise a task that fits those parameter, you need to put those boys together and away from the females, you need to make sure the stakes are sufficiently high, and you need to let them build, repair, destroy, carry, climb, rescue, win, suffer, and ultimately bond. But sitting around in a circle with a “talking stick” isn’t going to do it.

Brian Huskie
Brian Huskie is a National Board Certified public school teacher, homeschooling dad, OIF2 veteran, writer, real estate guru, suburban homesteader, youth flag football coach, and author of A White Rose: A Soldier’s Story of Love, War, and School. He writes at https://brianhuskie.substack.com/

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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