New Clear Vision


constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted


Restoring Respect

January 23, 2017 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Diane Lefer, Education

Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline

by Diane Lefer

When the Los Angeles Unified school board voted in May 2013 to ban the practice of suspending students for “willful defiance,” the blogosphere roiled with outrage. “Moron” was one of the mildest words used to attack school board president Monica Garcia and her colleagues. Students were referred to as thugs and animals, with black and Mexican American students singled out for particular abuse. Teachers said they wouldn’t be able to teach if they couldn’t remove disruptive students from the classroom. Both candidates for mayor declared their opposition to the new policy.

So why would the board want the distinction of being the first school district in the US to take this step?

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has explained that being suspended triples a young person’s likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system within the year. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University and focused on a major city in the Northeast found that even a single suspension in the 9th grade doubled the chance that a student would drop out of high school. (more…)

A People Rise

January 23, 2014 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Family, Robert C. Koehler

Beyond Our Broken Dreams

by Robert C. Koehler

Every night gunshots lullaby me to sleep
In ruins of abandoned buildings
the broken glass is
where we bottle up all our broken dreams….

Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett’s poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago’s high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.

The funding is fragile, precarious, but some schools in struggling communities are figuring out how to break the school-to-prison pipeline, even though the system as a whole remains wrapped up in suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance and racism.

“The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently. (more…)

One of Us

November 08, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Politics, Robert C. Koehler

Corralling the Loners and Stemming the Violence

by Robert C. Koehler

Another crazed, furious loner shocks the world. This time I’m a little too close to the edge of the chaos.

I gape at the TV in disbelief: I’m supposed to fly out of Los Angeles Airport — Terminal 3, no less — that afternoon, but all I see is footage of scrambling police and snarled traffic. If I’d booked an earlier flight, I could have been sitting there when the 23-year-old gunman shot the TSA agent at the foot of the escalator, then wandered through the gate area with his rifle and his grievances.

There are worse things in life than having to reschedule a flight. I postponed my return to Chicago for two days. Now that I’m back, I’m still thinking about last week’s killer-rampage spectacle, which culminated in the wounding and arrest of the suspect, Paul Ciancia. Afterward came the media’s smattering of sound-bite psychology. (more…)

Open Our Eyes…

October 03, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Family, Robert C. Koehler

Hope Flows from Hollow Water

by Robert C. Koehler

The community was out of control — the children, oh my God, the children, were sniffing gasoline and pretty much abandoning any pretense of a future — and the social and criminal-justice systems were just adding to the problem. Nothing was working.

“Our children slammed us against a brick wall,” Burma Bushie said.

This is the story of a culture in shambles. It was the early 1980s. Bushie’s community is called the Hollow Water First Nation Reserve, a village of about 900 people in eastern Manitoba, more or less at the end of the highway. There was one road in and one road out.

They may have felt utterly isolated in their troubles, but what a few of them started to do — in synchronicity with people in other indigenous communities — has spread hope and awareness across the planet. They began reaching beyond the known (i.e., Western) world, deep into their souls and into the roots of a lost way of life, to save their children and the future. Without intending to, they started a movement. And the slow reverberation of change continues to spread. (more…)

RJ in LA

September 24, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Diane Lefer

Bringing Restorative Justice into Los Angeles Schools

by Diane Lefer

In May, when the LAUSD board voted to end the practice of suspending students for “willful defiance,” the blogosphere heated up. Monica Garcia, then board president, was called a moron, and students were referred to as thugs, animals, and savages. Well, guess what, haters? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Recently, after the school year began with LAUSD rolling out a plan to replace punitive disciplinary measures with the practices of restorative justice, Garcia was applauded by community advocates at a meeting at Loyola Law School. In return, she gave the activists their props: “It’s because of your advocacy,” she said.

The restorative justice initiative was championed by community groups including CADRE, Community Rights Campaign, Dignity in Schools, and Youth Justice Coalition, all committed to keeping kids out of the criminal and juvenile court system and in school. This approach asks, Who was harmed? How can that harm be repaired? What are the needs and responsibilities of the parties? How can the parties be held accountable in a positive and healthy way? (more…)

Unlikely Friends

April 10, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Culture, Diane Lefer, Family

When Victims and Perpetrators Meet

by Diane Lefer

A few years back, after I spent an evening at a halfway house for men on parole, Sister Mary Sean Hodges challenged me. She has worked tirelessly through the Office of Restorative Justice, LA Archdiocese, on behalf of incarcerated men and women and those seeking to reenter society. She liked what I’d done advocating for gang members, prisoners, and criminal justice reform, but in her view I had fallen short. “You have to meet the victims, too,” she said.

I did, and soon felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of so much pain and rage. I wished there could be another way — a better way — to cope with such grief, but when I heard of other ways, I was cynical. I loved Reginald Denny for forgiving the teens who beat him unconscious during LA’s civil unrest, but, hey, with his head injury, he remembered nothing of the attack and I figured that made it easier to forgive. As for other cases I heard about, seriously, would you open your heart to your child’s murderer? I wanted to admire such compassion but it seemed more like delusional naïveté. You’d have to be a saint — or crazy. (more…)

Incubator for Peace

February 22, 2013 By: NCVeditor Category: Community, Family, Robert C. Koehler

Gaining a Foothold in the Forgotten Neighborhoods…

by Robert C. Koehler

You’re young and prone to trouble. You get triggered quickly. Someone tells you that you’ve screwed up and you’re about to lash back. Then, instead, you think:

Restorative Justice1. Look at the other person.

2. Say “OK.”

3. Stay calm.

This is what you do. And nothing happens, except that the moment passes and life goes on. Got it?

This column is another dispatch from Chicago, murder capital of America. How many of the murders — 506 of them last year — were committed by people who had no grasp of this particular social skill (accepting criticism or a consequence), or any of the dozen or so others tacked to the bulletin board in the peace room at Fenger High School? (more…)