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Putting Biblically-Based Principles to Work in Schools

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By Ken Johnson, CP Guest Contributor
March 20, 2013|9:04 am

Unless you are a hermit, practically every American knows that school-based violence is killing our school system and our students. If academics from Florida are right, this situation is only being made worse by school districts trying to hedge performance-based funding by suspending, expelling or otherwise causing low-performing and impoverished students to drop-out. This phenomenon is called the "Test-to-Prison Pipeline" theory.

Presently, over 857 students drop out of school each hour of the school day. According to the Center for Disease Control, another 4,500 commit suicide each year as a result of a new-era of 24/7 bullying which employs texting, emailing and social media technologies in addition to traditional bullying venues such as school buses, school lunchrooms, etc.

Indeed, it would appear that the public, and even some private sector, educational systems are at a bleak time in U.S. history. This, however, does not mean that Biblically-based principles cannot be put into place, even in secular schools, to where violence is not only lowered but even reversed.

In the Hebrew culture, a common blessing is to say "shalom." Many Christians wrongly interpret the word to merely mean "peace." In truth, the word means "perfect peace" and is a blessing that the person's condition be brought to a state of "all-rightness" to where everything is in harmony. Indeed, it is a rather profound concept!

Another, more Old Testament, notion is that of "atonement." Atonement is when an offender must answer not only to the victim, but also to society, in order to make right their wrongs and attain again a state of "shalom" or "all-rightness" in their life.

Following the New Testament, we also have the concepts of non-stigmatic shaming and forgiveness. Non-stigmatic shaming is where victims and the community hold the offender's actions in disdain while still loving and caring for the offender as a person.

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Along the same lines, when the offender has atoned for their crimes, there comes a time when all parties must forgive the offense and offender.

In the Collaborative Justice world, there is a practice known as Restorative Justice. This conflict transformation practice often times uses many of these Biblical notions in order to achieve transformation and "shalom." In particular, in the 1980s, Jonathan Braithwaite, an Australian criminologist, developed what is known as Reintegrative Shaming theory. This theory uses non-stigmatizing shame as a way to induce offenders to want to atone for their wrongful actions. Studies have conclusively proven that Reintegrative Shaming methodologies, such as panels and conferences, among others, have dramatically lowered recidivism. In one study, out of approximately 1,000 offenders only 70 reoffended. That is the synergetic power of non-stigmatic shaming and atonement in action!

Forgiveness, however, is another issue altogether. In America, even though we were founded upon Judeo-Christian values, we still hate to forgive as Jesus Christ instructed. However, after years of working in the field, I am convinced that the reason most people hate to forgive is that they do not understand the full nature of the act. To that end, I have developed what I call Shalom-centric Holistic Intersocial Forgiveness Transformation (S.H.I.F.T.) Theory.

S.H.I.F.T. is a three-fold understanding of forgiveness based on three distinct definitions of forgiveness as it relates to the three parties to an offense: the victim, the offender and the community. In regards to the community, to forgive means, "to grant pardon for or remission of an offense, debt, etc." In regards to the offender, to forgive means "to give up all claims on account of; remit a debt, obligation, etc." However, with the victim, there is something special which needs to be noted. While most faith-based, as well as secular, groups would say to that it means to "absolve" or "to cease to feel resentment against; to forgive one's enemies" that is just one half of the equation. The other half is that the victim must always forgive themselves as well and give up their claim to the victimization being that most victims feel somewhat to blame for being in the state that they are in.

When you seek to make right which has been made wrong, when you give up blame and claim to blame, when you begin to see people for people and actions as just a moment in time – transformation can then occur. The Bible teaches that we fight not with people but rather spirits and principalities. Collaborative Justice, with its use of Reintegrative Shaming and S.H.I.F.T. theories, may well be a well needed answer to our school-based violence problem.

Ken Johnson is a Collaborative Justice writer with certification from the Florida Supreme Court as a County Court Mediator and training in Restorative Justice from the University of West Florida.
 

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