The NYT Magazine Ed. Issue: Restorative Justice, Substitutes, and Gay Teens

By Mark Walsh — September 09, 2016 3 min read
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When The New York Times revealed in August that it was forming a digital-based education team, I thought to myself, finally, the newspaper of record is going to pay attention to school issues.

I’m kidding, of course. While the Times’s self-described effort aims to have the new digital-first education team “own this story for on all platforms and for multiple audiences,” it’s not as if the news organization has been a slacker on the beat.

Besides having a national education correspondent, and a number of local beat reporters in the New York City region, the Times still publishes its quarterly Education Life section (which has had a higher ed bent in recent years), and sometimes has an education theme for other whole sections, including The New York Times Book Review and the The New York Times Magazine.

This Sunday’s edition of the magazine is the “Education Issue,” which has been published about this time for each of the last several years. And much of the slate of content is already available on The Times’ website.

The cover piece of the Sept. 11 issue is titled “Inside Santa Monica High,” a photo essay by an 11th grader at the California high school named Nico Young. (The intro explains how that came to be.) Who knew a California high school would have so many skateboarders?

In the secondary lead article, “An Effective but Exhausting Alternative to High-School Suspensions,” magazine staff writer Susan Dominus contrasts the zero-tolerance approach to discipline in force in much of the country with the movement for “restorative justice,” which “asks students and teachers to strengthen connections and heal rifts by sitting on chairs in circles and allowing each participant to speak about how a given incident affected him or her.”

“It could easily be dismissed as an impossibly amorphous process for overworked teachers and volatile students were it not for its success so far, in programs in Denver and Oakland that started in the mid-2000s,” Dominus writes. “Schools employing restorative justice, or restorative practices, as it’s sometimes called, experienced such significant results—lowered suspension rates, higher graduation rates, improved school atmosphere—that both cities, as well as San Francisco, now offer restorative-practices training for all educators.”

The bulk of the piece is an examination of an effort to try restorative justice at one New York City public school—Leadership and Public Service High School in Manhattan’s Financial District.

In a piece titled “Fortress of Tedium: What I Learned as a Substitute Teacher,” the novelist Nicholson Baker reflects on his classroom experiences subbing from kindergarten through high school.

My favorite observation of Baker’s is this: “Of all the work sheets I passed out, the ones in high school were the worst. In my experience, every high-school subject, no matter how worthy and jazzy and thought-provoking it may have seemed to an earnest Common Corer, is stuffed into the curricular Veg-O-Matic, and out comes a nasty packet with grading rubrics on the back. On the first page, usually, there are numbered ‘learning targets,’ and inside, inevitably, a list of specialized vocabulary words to master.”

Jenna Wortham, a staff writer of the NYT Magazine, wrote a piece headlined, “For Gay and Transgender Teens, Will It Get Better?” Her short answer is that life for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people is not as comfy as recent advances for gay rights generally might suggest.

Citing a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wortham writes that “the numbers are heartbreaking: Lesbian, gay and bisexual teenagers were more likely to have been in a fight; they were nearly three times as likely to skip school out of fear for their safety. About a third were bullied, both at school and online; nearly half said they had seriously contemplated suicide in the last year. Almost a third had tried it at least once in the same time frame. High school is already an academic and social pressure cooker, and the forces that make it stressful are amplified for queer students.”

There are even a couple more education features in the magazine issue. Here’s hoping the Times’s pending focus on a digital-first approach to education coverage doesn’t foreclose the continuation of a good Sunday read with the magazine’s annual education issue.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.