by Tanya Franklin
Tanya Franklin is UCLA School of Law’s inaugural Education Law Public Service Fellow at MHAS.

This time of year, you can’t help but notice all the Christmas trees, evergreen and aromatic.  The image and the scent saturate the environment – even in Los Angeles where our trees seem to sprout from concrete parking lots.

This image of Christmas trees emerging from concrete poignantly reminds me of a poem many educators share with their students, particularly those from under-resourced communities. The poem is Tupac Shakur’s The Rose that Grew From Concrete; I’ve reproduced it for those who haven’t had the pleasure…

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

Tupac offers our students the inspiration to seek out the slightest opportunities and overcome impenetrable challenges, even if their path is completely out of the norm.  I see restorative justice as an opportunity (a crack, if you will) that proves traditional law (exclusionary discipline) wrong and allows students (our roses) to truly bloom.

Building on Tupac’s vision, Jeff Duncan-Andrade in his 2009 piece, “Note to Educators: Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete,” proposes a necessary belief for adults (for if you believe in the “village” model, all adults educate children in some way).

He posits that the traditional discipline practices often view our students as weeds. He analogizes, “We may think that if we send out the ‘disobedient’ child, we have removed the pain from our system… We rationalize the exclusion by telling ourselves that we have pulled a weed from the garden, allowing for a healthier environment for the other children to grow.”

As shameful as I feel about it now, I’m guilty of having held that viewpoint for some students in the past.  I thought – and educators in difficult situations might empathize – that if I sent out one student to finish his work next door or to talk to the Dean for the remainder of the period, that the rest of my classroom would learn more without him.  Unfortunately for that student, for the other students in the class, and for the teacher, it simply does not work that way.

Duncan-Andrade cites and affirms his colleague, K. Wayne Yang: “All my students are indigenous to my classroom and therefore there are no weeds in my classroom.”

What a simple, yet potentially transformative belief to hold: There are no weeds in our classrooms.

With restorative justice, instead of removing a child, we choose to heal her.  In turn, we nurture the entire community garden. The work is far from easy; the practice is difficult to change; but all I hope for this holiday season, as we drive past another Christmas tree lot or spot a rose growing from an unexpected place, is that we begin to believe in the good of all our children. There are no weeds here – only roses and Christmas trees.