Editor’s Note: In Orlando Serrano Jr’s article, There are Different Suns, he shares animating ideas and frameworks shaping the work of making the new Center for Restorative History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The article and Serrano’s lineage of thought are broad and, importantly, shaped by many sources beyond museum or education literature alone. We asked him to share his extended notes as a form of conversation with the people and ideas he’s building on. There are Different Suns is accessible to both members and non-members as the free article for JME 48.4 in partnership with our publisher Taylor & Francis.
“There are Different Suns”
- The title rephrases Octavia Butler’s epigram for the never-published Parable of the Trickster, “There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.” Folks often evoke this quote to get at the fact that alternatives exist all around us. We just do not see them or look for them.
- NK. Jemisin, The City We Became (New York: Orbit Books, 2020). Jemisin is a multiple award-winning speculative fiction writer. Recurring themes in her work include racial conflict, environmentalism, family relationships, and imagination as resistance. She is the first author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in Speculative Fiction for three consecutive years. Jemisin is also a MacArthur Fellowship recipient and Honorary Geographer Award recipient from the Association of American Geographers.
- Sylvia Wynter, “On how we mistook the map for the territory, and re-imprisoned ourselves in our unbearable wrongness of being, of désêtre: Black studies towards the human project,” Not Only the Master’s Tools: African-American Studies in Theory and Practice, edited by Lewis. R. Gordon and Jane Anna Gordon (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers: 2006), 107-169. In this essay, Wynter argues for the need to think about ways of being outside Western notions of subjectivity and being – we must challenge the categories that seem fixed by grounding ourselves otherwise. This summary here is just that, a summary. Wynter’s work is vital and continues to be generative for folks looking for another place, another way, to be.
- Ruth Wilson Gilmore is Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics and Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies as well as American Studies at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Gilmore is also a founding member of several movements, including the California Prison Moratorium Project, Critical Resistance, and the Central California Environmental Justice Project. Gilmore says this often, “where life is precious, life is precious.” Recently, she appeared as a guest on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett. In fact, Tippett pulls out this quote from their conversation together. The conversation between Gilmore and Tippett is a helpful introduction to Gilmore and how she imagines abolition – as presence, architecture, and planning. Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation (London: Verso Books, 2022) is a collection of her essays and is highly recommended reading for folks interested in abolition, building relationships for change, and the spatiality of our world.
- Ruthie, as Gilmore is known to colleagues, friends, and students, also addresses this phenomenon in the exponential growth of the prison-industrial complex in California beginning in the 1970s. She argues that prisons and criminalization, that is, the process of making criminals through “tough on crime” legislation, are geographic solutions to social problems, precisely the organized abandonment of previously industrialized cities in the state that led to surplus labor. Rather than put the surplus labor to work in myriad possible social projects, the state put the surplus labor in cages. See Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007)
- Neil Smith writes about “nested scales” and how ideas can originate at one and move across, or “jump,” scale. This is a key concept in geography as well as in political theory. To act accordingly to create change, it is important to understand which scale one wants to effect: personal, family, community, local state, nation-state, or globe. Anglo-law often pushes down from the local or nation-state to the personal. Why would the nation-state be the appropriate scale to reconcile relationships that need mending at the personal scale? Especially when access to and influence on laws made at the nation-state scale are uneven across race, ethnicity, class, gender, and documentation. Robert Yazzie argues for keeping the personal personal. See “Contours of a Spatialized Politics: Homeless Vehicles and the Production of Geographical Scale,” Social Text, No. 33 (1992): 54-81.
- Ruthie often reminded us in class that we read and think about how the world works in order to change it. In other words, she stated that theory is a guide to action.
- Katherine McKittrick, Dear Science and Other Stories (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021), 128. McKittrick is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Black Studies at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Her work is anchored in Black Studies in the practice of Sylvia Wynter and other Black scholars who locate alternative ways of knowing, being, and making worlds in Black diasporic thinking and living.
Education v Learning
- Lauryn Hill describes her solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Philadelphia, Ruffhouse Records, 1998), as her thinking and writing about what she learned beyond the lessons her teachers delivered. Sometimes, this learning occurred in the classroom, sometimes outside it. All of it was learning, none of it was education, hence miseducation. In many regards, Miseducation is Ms. Hill excavating the territory, disentangling it from the map.
- A critique of education ruled by metrics and outcomes is that it brings neoliberal capitalism into a realm of the social that was previously safeguarded. For example, the language of “failing schools” and the practice of “school closures” are right out of the neoliberal capitalist habits of failing businesses and closures. In both instances, school closures and business closures, communities, and the people who make up communities through their relationships with each other are abandoned. This is what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “organized abandonment.” “Organized Abandonment and Organized Violence: Devolution and the Police,” filmed at The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz, November 09, 2015, accessed June 06, 2023, https://vimeo.com/146450686.
- Kathryne Mitchell points out that this abandonment often results in what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession: “[a]s schools are closed and the land or building sold, public assets belonging to the community are lost.” Making Workers: Radical Geographies of Education (London: Pluto Press, 2018), p. 129. Often, the buyers are charter school organizations backed by private capital. Private, public partnerships in schools lead to the possibility of creating a particular kind of student ready to maintain the world shaped by neoliberal capitalism and an opportunity for donors to keep their money in motion, i.e., to keep capitalism in full operation. For more on accumulation by dispossession, see David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
- For more in-depth readings into critical pedagogy, see bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994); Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 50th Anniversary Edition (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018); Antonia Darder, Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love, Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 2017); Henry Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy, Second Edition (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020); Sandy Grande, Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought, Tenth Anniversary Edition (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014); and Peter McLaren, Critical Pedagogy: Where are We Now? (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007).
The experiences I share in a classroom come from my time as a ninth-grade Language Arts teacher in Washington, DC. The students I learned and worked with were overwhelmingly Black and Brown. Their family income qualified them for free lunch; many were children of immigrants who were learning English and were not necessarily literate in their home language, and many would be the first in their family to graduate from high school or attend college. Several students received benefits through the McKinney-Vento Act.
Our classroom culture norming process went a little like this:
1. Groups of four brainstormed what we wanted our time together to look like with regard to interacting with each other and completing work.
2. After brainstorming, each group put a poster with their ideas on a wall. We then did a gallery walk, and students checked the ideas they agreed with on the posters of their peers.
3. Once the gallery walk was complete, we discussed the suggestions with the most support and sorted them into clouds of related ideas. Then came the challenging part – developing a header for each group, revising, and re-sorting.
4. Line edits of our norms and final approval by consensus.
Anchor charts are a representation of the process. “Be Respectful,” which mentions circle time, always surfaced across all classes. My scope and sequence for the first week always followed this cadence:
- Day 1: Syllabus and meeting our classmates;
- Day 2: Circle Time;
- Day 3: Norms.
As with any structure or practice we use in our classroom, circle time starts with non-content material for all of us to get used to using one day each week for this practice. We began with icebreaker-type activities to practice sharing the space, using a token for speaking and building off each other’s contributions. Eventually, we drifted into questions and prompts designed to foster social-emotional metacognition and processing.
Every once in a while, we would use the time to support each other, “Is there a matter one of us is working through with which we could use advice?” This circle time practice was vital to all my classes. It built rapport and trust and laid the foundation for difficult conversations I had with students one-on-one or when it became necessary to mediate conflict between students. Yes, it took one day of “instruction” or “content” each week. However, we learned about trusting each other and practiced horizontal organization that directly positively impacted student performance on the four days each week we did learn with “content.”
Developing norms together rather than prescribing rules at the outset is a foundational practice recommended by most local education agencies (LEAs) in shifting culture from teacher/educator-centered to community-driven, which is vital for restorative practices. A key reason for this is the belief that students should have as much to say about their learning environment and culture as the teacher because a) they are also a part of it and b) students have much to contribute.
- For example, in their guide for RJ, the Oakland Unified School District lists the following RJ practices, “Provides opportunity for equitable dialogue and participatory decision-making. Involves relevant stakeholders.” As a way to think about this, Oakland USD offers “NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US: Those impacted feel welcome and safe to participate.”
- Further in the document, they list student roles as “co-creates the norms and practices of a restorative classroom and school culture.” See Oakland Unified School District, “Restorative Justice Implementation Guide: A Whole School Approach, accessed June 20, 2023, https://www.ousd.org/cms/lib/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/BTC-OUSD1-IG-08b-web.pdf. Fania Davis, RJ scholar, is an advisor to Oakland USD for RJ programming and support.
- The belief that young people bring knowledge into their learning environments and are already theoretical beings is central to critical pedagogy. See, bell hooks, 1994. The introduction, in particular, writes against the “banking” model of education that has historically been used in US schools – students are vessels to be filled with information. Paulo Freire writes against this in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
- In The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education: Fostering Responsibility, Healing, and Hope in Schools, Evans and Vaandering challenge using terms often used in learning environments, “Listen for the phrases classroom management, classroom control, or behavior management in your particular context. Ask the following: What is the intention of the terminology? Does this encourage you to engage with your students or control them?” 67.
Restorative Justice, Transformative Justice, and Restorative History
Several sources will be cited in the article. Still, for readers interested in learning more about RJ, a more robust list will be included in the works cited because they are gleaned from if not quoted explicitly. It must also be noted that a closely related community of thinking and practice, transformative justice (TJ), is growing. Admittedly, reductionism, a way to think about the difference between RJ and TJ, is on a spectrum toward abolition. If one imagines a movement towards abolition – where abolition means an organization of political, social, and economic life in such a manner that humans can live their fullest lives – TJ is the next set of practices following RJ to create movement in that direction. For a primer on TJ, visit the Barnard Center for the Study of Women for a series of videos called Building Accountable Communities that introduce TJ principles and practices.
- Robert Yazzie, “Life comes from it: Navajo justice concepts,” New Mexico Law Review, Volume 24 (Spring) 1994: 177. Importantly, Yazzie states that this practice has existed since “time immemorial.” In other words, peacemaking is outside Western liberal humanism.
It is important to note that power is theorized in this article, not as an object one person can wield over another. Instead, power is theorized as the ability to get someone to do something they would not otherwise do on their own – it is a dynamic in a relationship. Sometimes, dynamics that begin at the person-to-person level are scaled to the federal government, away from the person, and calcified into a law. For example, based on one-to-one interactions, people may agree that driving should not begin until age 16. An agreement among people stops (usually) folks under 16 from driving, which might not be true if that law did not exist. Sometimes, this dynamic remains at the person-to-person level. For example, because of our relationship, my daughter might get me to do something I might not otherwise do, like drive across states for a travel soccer tournament.
- This leads to another point on power – it is politically and ethically neutral. It is when power is coupled with difference – racism, sexism, heteropatriarchy, etc. – that it becomes dangerous and fatal. For more, see Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Fatal Couplings of Power and Difference: Notes on Racism and Geography,” Professional Geographer 54 (1): 2002, 15-24.
- Sujatha Baliga, The Ezra Klein Show: The Transformative Power of Restorative Justice, 2020, accessed July 13, 2020, https://open.spotify.com/episode/1T4fC2pl0mCRPxIylK64an
- Yazie, 185. It is interesting and epistemologically important that Chief Justice Yazzie writes the term as problem-solving and not problem-solving. It is not insignificant that the two terms are bound together. In doing so, Navajo practice seems to connote and assume that the appearance of a problem precipitates/immediately starts moving towards a solution – not removing a problem from sight in order not to solve it.
- For examples of non-Indigenous writers who transliterate peacemaking into restorative justice, see Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice: Revised and Updated (New York, NY: Good Books, 2015); Fania Davis, The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation (New York, NY: Good Books, 2019); and Sujatha Baliga, https://www.sujathabaliga.com/talks-and-media. In addition, for RJ in formal school environments, see Katherine Evans and Dorothy Vaandering, The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education: Fostering Responsibility, Healing, and Hope in Schools (New York, NY: Good Books, 2016).
- The work of the Undocumented Organizing Team on a more reflective and community-centered oral history collection process has produced a Classroom Guide to Oral History Pamphlet that the NMAH education team has used and will use going forward. It has replaced previous guides for oral history in classrooms that we used and distributed in workshops.
As a classroom teacher, we used circle time to mediate class tension and one-on-one meetings for interpersonal conflict. Sometimes, this was between students, sometimes between students and teachers. It is important to note that making right does not necessarily mean continual development of a relationship; it means situating the relationship on terms right enough to be in a community together without continuing harm.
- According to the Prison Policy Initiative “Race and Ethnicity,” accessed June 20, 2023, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/research/race_and_ethnicity/, the pandemic only exacerbated these inequities. Between 2020-2022, the daily incarceration rate for Black people increased by 8%, and it increased by 0.4% for white people. See Pew, “Racial Disparities Persist in Many US Jails,” May 16, 2023, accessed June 20, 2023, https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2023/05/racial-disparities-persist-in-many-us-jails.
- UNICOR, or Federal Prison Industries (FPI), was established by an executive order issued by President Franklin Roosevelt, “About UNICOR,” UNICOR, accessed June 20, 2023, https://www.unicor.gov/About.aspx. Today, UNICOR – using prison labor – continues to be a preferred vendor for federal units and agencies. Section 8.002, Priorities for the use of mandatory Government sources, of the Federal Acquisition Regulation reads, “(a) Except as required by 8.003, or otherwise provided by law, agencies shall satisfy requirements for supplies and services from or through the mandatory sources and publications listed below in descending order of priority: (1) Supplies (i) Inventories of the requiring agency. (ii) Excess from other agencies (see subpart 8.1). (iii) Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (see subpart 8.6).” The text in subpart 8.6 adds, “Agencies are encouraged to purchase FPI supplies and services to the maximum extent practicable.” Federal Acquisition Regulation “Part 8 -Required sources of supplies and services,” accessed June 20, 2023, https://www.acquisition.gov/far/part-8?searchTerms=unicor#FAR_Subpart_8_6.
- Federal agencies are not alone in purchasing supplies and services from UNICOR. Recently, it has been publicized that higher education institutions in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia areas have also purchased from UNICOR. These institutions include The University of Virginia, George Mason University, Mary Washington University, and the University of Maryland, College Park. See Lilah Burke, “Public Universities, Prison-made Furniture,” Inside Higher Ed, February 13, 2020, accessed June 20, 2023, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/02/14/public-universities-several-states-are-required-buy-prison-industries and Mario Morais, “UMD Purchased $4.3 Millions of Furniture Made with Prison Labor in 2022, Public Records Show,” The Black Explosion, April 2, 2023, accessed June 20, 2023, https://www.blackexplosionnews.com/blog/2023/4/1/umd-purchased-43-million-of-furniture-made-with-prison-labor-in-2022-public-records-show. In 2020, Black student leaders at UMD outlined twenty-five critical issues and demands for increased equity. Listed as #15: “Divest from the Maryland Correctional Enterprises, as well as businesses and companies invested in it, and the prison-industrial complex.” University of Maryland Office of Diversity and Inclusion, “University Partnership on Critical Issues Defined by Black Student Leaders,” accessed June 20, 2023, https://diversity.umd.edu/black-student-leaders. Morais’s reporting calls UMD’s commitment into question.
- Center for Restorative History, “GPEP Alumni Internship Program,” accessed June 20, 2023 https://americanhistory.si.edu/restorative-history/gpep-alumni-internship-program.
In our classroom setting, solidarity was practiced in two main ways. First, when students crossed our established norms – either between students or between teacher and student – the harmed and harming party took a break at our reflection station and processed what happened. Students were given options between writing, drawing, and typing to record the conflict from their perspective.
After some time, the parties were brought together for a mediation modeled on RJ practices and dialogue. The purpose of the meeting was always to resolve issues and make proper relations. See resources from Oakland USD, San Diego County Schools, and Baltimore Public Schools mentioned in the works cited for strategies, structures, and routines for navigating these mediations.
Students were not asked to enter the hallway or sent to an administrator’s office. There are two main reasons for this. At the most local level, asking a student to step outside or leave the classroom could result in serious damage to the relationship and bring up feelings of abandonment, being unwanted, or being given up on.
Second, sending a student to an administrator’s office could result in suspension, in-school or out-of-school. Research shows that suspension rates correlate to incarceration rates. As Antonia Darder argues, “Often youth incarceration is directly tied to inadequate education, zero-tolerance practices of suspension and expulsion, and the increased surveillance and policing of working-class youth of color within schools and communities. And although most fourth graders cannot read at grade level, states are spending about three times as much money per prisoner as per public school pupil” (27).
Although Black and Latinx young men are often the focus of these statistics (the probability of being incarcerated during their lifetime is one in three for Black persons assigned male at birth (AMAB), one in six for Latinx person AMAB, and one in seventeen for white person AMAB), Black persons assigned female at birth (AFAB) are increasingly being suspended or incarcerated.
- In Pushout, Monique Morris points out that “Since 1992, girls’ share of delinquency cases resulting in detention has increased….These are mostly girls of color (a disproportionately high percentage of girls are Black or Latina), and many of them (by some estimates, 40 percent) identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ), or gender-nonconforming.” Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School (New York, NY: The New Press, 2017) 2.
- This contact and subsequent capture by the US criminal justice system is exacerbated, as it is with Black and Latin persons AMAB, by exclusionary (detention, suspension, expulsion) at school. Morris adds, “Black girls are 16 percent of the female population, but nearly one-third of all girls referred to law enforcement and more than one-third of all school-based arrests” (Ibid., 3).
- The second way solidarity was maintained and reestablished was through constant communication with the students’ caregivers. As Darder argues, “It is true that the concrete execution of teaching practice takes place within the localized boundaries of the classroom. But to remain solely within the confines of those four walls in one’s analysis or interpretation of what constitutes the lives of students and teachers is naïvely to refuse to acknowledge the interdependent nature of all existence” (p. 75).
- Or, as Justice Yazzie argues, the harmed and the person harming are not the only parties impacted. Frequent calls home, weekly newsletters, and occasional home visits were used to establish communication between myself and the people in the lives of students outside the four walls of our classroom. These were used to communicate positive feedback and growth areas and offer support. This is similar in practice, though different in appearance, to the committed and sustained relationship-building and refreshing required of museum-based RJ learning projects.
Our class ended each year with a project called A People’s Guide to DC. Every class period wrote a different version of the same guide because of the process. We read sections of A People’s Guide to Los Angeles to see examples of what we were building toward. Then, we mapped our commutes.
Students drew cognitive maps of their trips to campus, highlighting any institutions, buildings, businesses, or centers that stood out to them. This was done entirely from memory. The next time on campus, they added to their maps – paying attention to any places they missed.
After creating a more thorough representation of their world, students listed any places they visited after school or on the weekends for any services and recreational activities. They added it if the places fell along their commute but were not on their map yet. They kept any leftover places on a separate list if they did not. At this point, students decided on a place on their map or list that was a significant cultural, social, political, or historical site.
If more than one student shared an interest, they worked in pairs. They wrote an entry describing the history of the place, why it is important, and what it offers. They also wrote a brief entry for an area of entry near their selected location, a locally owned restaurant, or another important place. Ultimately, we shared our work on a website we made together. We also printed a copy of our guide to send home for the student families. There was some overlap from class to class, but not significantly.
- See Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng, A People’s Guide to Los Angeles (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012).
Moving Towards A Decolonial Practice and Reindigenizing
- Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “Decolonization is Not A Metaphor” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society 1 (1): 3.
- For more on incommensurability, decolonization, and the need for a new ordering of the world, see Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963).
- Puawai Cairns, Head of the Taonga Maori collection at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, surfaces the possibilities of the practice of reMaorification argued for by Moana Jackson. reMaorification recenters Maori voices and rightly acknowledges Maori epistemologies and ontologies. Cairns suggests this might be a way forward for museums interested in decolonization and reindigenisation. Cairns points readers to the work of artist Arwa Aburawa, visualizing an article written by Sumaya Kassim. Cairns writes, “Sumaya concluded from her own experiences that the museum will not be decolonised because systemic resistance is too great, the colonial bones go too deep, and decolonising requires much more sacrifice from colonial subjects than ever before. Decolonisation becomes just another series of extractive events and engagement which doesn’t seem too dissimilar to colonisation.” See Puawai Cairns, “Decolonisation: We are Not Going to Save You,” Center for the Future of Museums Blog, December 17, 2018, accessed June 2, 2021, https://www.aam-us.org/2018/12/17/decolonisation-we-arent-going-to-save-you/. These moves towards remodification or indigenization would align with how Wayne Modest encouraged members of the CRH DWG to think of decolonization. In a conversation we had with him on June 17, 2022. He suggested that we think of decolonization as a horizon. We may not reach it, but we must move towards it.
- Ayena Jamieson writes of Octavia Butler’s collection of paper at the Huntington Library, “Her collection reminds us what we have, what we’ve lost, and what can be gained by leaving behind self-curated libraries.” “Far Beyond the Stars,” in Black Futures, edited by Kimberley Drew and J Wortham, One World, New York, NY: 2020, p. 103. On p. 104, Jamieson outlines how to create your own archive. The CRH recently recorded its oral history to add to our archive because you never know.
Orlando R. Serrano, Jr. is Manager for PK-12 Learning at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He manages the museum’s programs and resources for PK-12 audiences. He supports and develops informal educational and leadership experiences for students, professional development workshops for educators, and curriculum content. He is also a member of The Center for Restorative History as Project Director of the Decolonization Working Group and member of the Research & Action Team.
Dr. Serrano holds a Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity from the University of Southern California. He is an educator and public academic with expertise in human geography, environmental justice, social movements, and pedagogy. Dr. Serrano’s research and writing have been funded by a Ford Foundation Fellowship and National Science Foundation EDGE-SBE Grants.