This Restorative Justice Life

Abbott Elementary S1E11 "Desking" w/ Ace Schwarz (Restorative Justice Reflections)

July 25, 2023 David Ryan Castro-Harris
This Restorative Justice Life
Abbott Elementary S1E11 "Desking" w/ Ace Schwarz (Restorative Justice Reflections)
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How can you use Restorative Justice in navigating personal & professional life as a queer educator, creating space for dialogue when students misbehave? Find out on this episode of Restorative Justice Reflections!

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Speaker 1:

Heyo, david here. Restored of Justice Reflections was created as a video first medium because we're including video clips from the shows we're talking about. You can still hear our full conversation here with the audio from the clip, but for the full experience and to see our beautiful faces, head over to our YouTube page link below. If you're only going podcasts or your thing, please bear with the mentions of video and clips and use your imagination. Enjoy. Welcome back to Restored of Justice Reflections.

Speaker 1:

I'm David, ryan, barsega, castro, harris all five names for all the ancestors and today I'm here with Ace Schwartz to dive deep into the restorative themes or lack thereof Found in season one, episode 11 of ABC's Abba Elementary Desking. As always, our conversation here is not a critique of the story or production choices of the creators, but we will highlight how Restored of Justice could apply to situations like creating space for student dialogue when there's misbehavior and navigating personal and professional life as a queer educator. Hopefully this will give you some insight about how to apply restorative ways of being into your life in and out of the classroom. If you want to take a deeper look at applying Restored of Justice to your life, join our inner circle community to connect with RJ-minded individuals and get bonus content. Deepen your practice by checking out our courses and if you want to see this work in your school or organization, invite us for coaching or training on implementing this work. Of course, the links to everything down below.

Speaker 1:

Now let's get to it, ace. Welcome to Restored of Justice Reflections. So glad to have you Tell us about your journey with education.

Speaker 2:

Hello, abba Cumans, including David. So I'm Ace, my friends and they're them and I am a middle school science teacher. Have been for eight years now and I wasn't supposed to be a science teacher. I was supposed to take over my dad's business and it was a soda company and then got a chance to teach Sunday school at church and that was very life changing. Went into education instead, taught for five years in public school and I transitioned Very negative experience after I came out and transitioned as non-binary, so I left that school and now I'm three years into another school and I'm really, really happy.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, questions abound, right. What was it about teaching Sunday school? That was like teaching us. For me. Instruction is for me. Kids, working with kids is for me.

Speaker 2:

I just really was like looking forward to going to church every Sunday specifically to be with the kids, not so much for the other stuff, but I really enjoyed teaching kids and having them repeat things back to me later that they learned. Like it was like, oh my gosh, I did that, like I said things and taught things and these kids learned something and that's really cool. It was a cool feeling. And I taught preschool. It's in church, but I teach middle school and I really still, to this day, do you not know why I didn't go into elementary yet and why I specifically focused on middle ed? But I'm very happy, middle school is my jam, 100%.

Speaker 1:

Right. A lot of people are like, oh my gosh, it's such a challenging age, but you know why was it middle school for you?

Speaker 2:

I think, because some of my most pivotal years, identity wise, were middle school and I, my gender identity and teaching are kind of tied together in a way. Like I've known, I was not the gender assigned at birth, since I was like six years old and my parents didn't understand it. It was the late 90s, early 2000s. There just wasn't the education there is today, and so I had to kind of push all that stuff down. And middle school was so confusing, because that's a time when you're supposed to have your, you're starting to come into your identity and figure out who you are as a human, and I was just so confused and I remember having teachers who were awesome, but I felt like they didn't totally understand me as a whole person, and that's what I wanted to do differently. I wanted to be the middle school teacher that I never really had and also be the queer teacher that I wish I had had in middle school.

Speaker 1:

I'm often someone who is saying, like representation, yeah, but representation isn't everything. Can you explain what representation or seeing yourself would have meant for you as a young person growing up?

Speaker 2:

Oh, I think the big thing is just knowing that how I was feeling was normal and there were other people who felt like me because I felt so alone and it would have been really nice to know that I could make it to adulthood and be this thriving adult. That would have been huge.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, queer representation in media hasn't always been the way that, like we would have wanted it to be right. A lot of times queer characters are just there for entertainment, as an outlier or as something to be, as something, someone to be made fun of. Right here in Abbott we have a queer character who's, you know, biggest flaw is their maybe overall, overall performative wokeness. But you know, that is why it's it's so important to have this kind of representation where, like, queer people can be a multitude of things and queer people aren't Worthy of being demonized, but they're also not like perfect either, like full human beings. And you know, I know that's one of the reasons you wanted to talk about this episode, desking. So let's get into it. Episode summary, courtesy of Wikipedia. In episode 11, season 1 of Abbott, elementary desking, we have students running from one side of the room to the other, jumping on desks, recording it and posting it to tiktok.

Speaker 2:

These videos are everywhere. Mr Ron Snow, bit West Adams elementary, said he's been cleaning desks for weeks. Oh my god, there's hundreds of these. This is horrible.

Speaker 1:

And it's become a popular trend across schools in the nation and Abbott elementary. So much to unpack here. Um, where do you want to start?

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh. Um, I just have to say when you asked me what my favorite episode was, I specifically chose this one, not for the desking themes I'll be so real with you but because of the way we get to meet Jacob's boyfriend. I think that was just fantastic and I love how he holds Jacob accountable all adult sneaker.

Speaker 1:

It increases the make and model options significantly, so smart. We came in third at trivia night last week over at Oscars, you know, done by written house. We were eliminated on a technicality, but Sri Lanka honey, you didn't know where's the story going. Are we focusing on the task at hand?

Speaker 2:

And that was just like such a like a bit of an rj vibe for me, restorative justice vibe, so that was my reason for picking it. But let's start with like Desking as the trend, I guess, like how the students think of it versus how the teachers think of it, because I think that's the whole Conflict of the episode, right, like the kids see it as this really cool Trend and the adults are like no, this is dangerous and also we don't want shoe prints on our desks. Like that makes more work for all of us.

Speaker 1:

Right, right, and I think you know it's really important to think about. You know, when we're thinking about a problem With a restorative lens, like what happened, who's impacted and how, and what are the needs that need to be a distance in order to make things Right, like lots of people are impacted, potentially right, when you're thinking about, you know, students desking. Fortunately, within the context of this episode, no students are like injured, right, but it does create more work for mr Johnson. It is work for the teachers who are worried about the safety and well-being of their students. It's also, you know, apparent Communication issue that might need to happen if, when these students are Approach to get to the bottom of all this.

Speaker 1:

We don't necessarily see that in this episode, but that could be something that could happen and these students, right, like these students are participating in viral trend, like looking for clout, essentially right, acceptance, belonging With their peer group, and so, you know, with all of these needs, right, somebody needing to like, not create, like, not more, less work for mr Johnson, like Assurance of safety, physical safety of students, for teachers and their the students, caregivers and parents, families, and like the sense of belonging and respect among the students, like there are a lot of things that need to be addressed here and, like we don't necessarily get to a restorative solution at the end of this episode Um, you know, jacob is filmed.

Speaker 2:

Whoa, these were in the honeydew's veins.

Speaker 1:

Oh, abbot, ultimate desking challenge done teacher style. Is that mrC Deskins deaded, making it seem uncool to the kids and like, maybe that solves like what was going on on top of the iceberg, if you will, with this problem, like students are no longer desking, but like all of those underlying needs aren't necessarily being met. As you were watching this episode and thinking through like how to restoratively approach a problem like this, what came up for you? Because, like these are students, you are like very close to the age of the kids that you're working with every single day.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I was really struck by the scene where Melissa and Ava are and then Jeanine and Jacob are splitting up the two kids that they know are involved.

Speaker 1:

Look, Stefan, I get it. I was a kid once. But you and I both know this is gonna end, and when it does, you don't wanna be the one left holding the bag Sometimes. Sometimes the right thing is fun, so why don't you tell us who started this and who's doing it? You know, doesn't that sound fun?

Speaker 2:

The kids don't confess, right, because why would they? I think I was struck by the immediacy of the punitive measures, of that scene, like they weren't really trying to have a dialogue with the kids. They were making it seem like they were Like if you rat on your friend, right, you won't get in trouble, but we need to know who's doing this. We need to, like you know, just put an end to this Without actually talking to the kids about why they were doing it. That just like really struck me, because I was like to me that would be my first question Like why are you desking? Like what is cool about it? Like explain this to me, because what I know as a 30 year old is very different from what a younger person would right. Like the logic is different, and so you can work with logic and you can, you know, talk to logic, but you can't just go right in with the attack.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's a really good representation of how, like even well-intentioned teachers like Janine and Jacob, who are like woke, liberal, progressive whatever word you want to use Like within the context of a school system, like really fall back on tropes of policing and the carceral state right, like good cop, bad cop, right Rat on your friend, so like you won't get punished, right, and aren't really trying to get to the root causes of the problems. They're also like super paternalistic and like, oh, I know what's going on, like I know better, and like this is something that we've seen from Janine, especially across the season. Right, where, like she thinks she knows best and oftentimes like I think as adults we do know what's best in a situation. But to not take the time to build relationship with those students, like that all that goes. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Speaker 1:

If you're not taking the time to build relationships, not necessarily as like equals, because we are still working within like the hierarchy of a school and we are working with people who are less experienced in life than us, like we do have more knowledge, but we've got to take the time to build a relationship so people will actually listen to the things that we have to say. Instead, what we have is right, you don't really repair the relationship or meet the needs of the students. You've just solved the problem of like, all right, well, the kids aren't running across the desk anymore and, yeah, mr Johnson doesn't have to deal with that, and you know, I guess that's fine For the purposes of the episode. It wraps up a narrative pretty well, but thinking about the relationships that Janine and Jacob and Ava and everyone will have with those students moving forward, it's like what did we solve here? What did we actually do?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and like in the very beginning of the episode, Janine and Jacob were getting compliments from kids. Hey, that's a nice sweater.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, Miles. Wow a compliment. And it wasn't a setup for a punchline, no, I was waiting for a nice sweater. Didn't know Bert and Ernie had a yard sale, but the kids have actually been really cool lately and like excited to learn. Yeah, no same, no misbehaving, the grades are up and I'm getting flowers apparently Like are we awake?

Speaker 2:

And both of them were saying, oh, they respect us so much and we're completely shocked when the kids were desking, like how could they do that? They don't like they respect us, and I don't know that it's about respect, because I think, you know, it's totally possible for the kids to respect folks and still do things that don't align with that right. Like how we view respect as adults and how kids view respect aren't necessarily the same, and they were more hurt by the idea that the kids don't respect them than actually building the relationship to get that respect in a way that makes sense for both parties.

Speaker 1:

And like as you're saying, as I'm thinking, or really like being concerned for the kids' safety.

Speaker 2:

Right.

Speaker 1:

And it's like how do I look in? You know, I think a lot of that is just played up, as you know, characters on a TV show. But as we're thinking about being adults in school buildings, or adults in relationship, or like people who have authority over other people in work situations where you do want to be liked right, everybody wants to be liked but within the context of your job, your role, responsibilities, what does it look like to build relationships? So one you can get the things that you need to do done in a safe, efficient manner, but also like be in good relationship with people so you can communicate about conflict or conflicting ideas, about what fun, good, safe, wholesome fun is, or like productive ways of being together are right. There are so many ways that that plays out.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely.

Speaker 1:

If you're appreciating this video, like to help us in the YouTube algorithm, subscribe so you won't miss the video, and share it with someone to help us further amplify this work. Now back to the show. This is one of my favorite episodes of Abbott. You know, especially thinking through a restorative justice lens because, like that has like a really clear student behavior conflict that we can address and identify. But you know, thinking about restorative themes throughout the people's relationships you participate in the show, right, and to have this type of queer representation. So he knew you and was like more Well, I think he sounds like a really neat guy, right.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah, sure yeah.

Speaker 1:

Hey, there's my guy Black. It's actually pronounced Zach. You must be Eva. It's a really helpful holistic representation of like who queer people are and you know, big ups to the show for providing that kind of representation.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, oh my gosh. Yeah, I absolutely loved seeing Jacob and Zach together, not just hearing like Jacob tell stories about Zach, but seeing them together interacting like it was great, because queer characters, like you said, are often these one dimensional stereotypes and it was so nice seeing not that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I mean, like the I'm just laughing at, like the whole sneakerhead aspect of you know Zach's character was like, yeah, I mean that tracks like I know that person, that person can also be a queer person, right, like those things aren't mutually exclusive. Like oftentimes within the context of a show, that person like might be like an Asian male, like Asian male, like height beast, like that, like we might think of, but to integrate that with, to have someone be like more than one thing is really important representation and you know, again, kudos to the show for showing that we hope to see more. I mean, I know that comes back in future episodes and we love, we love to see it integrated as just like, not a second thought that teachers are going to share about their personal lives with their colleagues and their students and not be not be shamed for it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, definitely, I really appreciated. I really appreciate Abbott being a show that I can relate to so much because it's teaching and so, even though it's very exaggerated, like I see my teaching experience reflected in the show. And it was also really great that they really intentionally included a queer storyline and queer characters, because right now the climate for queer teachers is not great Just the anti LGBTQ plus legislation and so to have a positive representation amidst a world that feels like it's trying to dull our sparkle right in a way like that was horrible. Hang on, having this representation in a world that is constantly trying to silence us or, you know, shake our confidence, prevent us from being the educators that we are right, queer is one part of our identity. We're also teachers, and really good teachers too, and I think it's so important to just keep having that representation and keep pushing back against. You know what is truly a small percentage of the population. They're just very, very loud.

Speaker 1:

The staff and the characters that I've elementary are limited by, you know, 22 minutes of an episode, but they are also people who are living in a version of the real world, where people who are teachers have limited time and resources to engage in all the things that they want to do during the work day, right, and so one of the things that I'm thinking about a lot when we're thinking about having these restorative conversations or restorative processes is when do Janine and Jacob have time? When would Janine and Jacob have had time to really sit down and have these kind of conversations with these students? Or, if not Janine and Jacob, who are the other people in school?

Speaker 1:

Obviously, ava's, not necessarily the person we want to be referring them to. But when we're thinking about, like, putting in these practices and bringing these ways of being into our school context, it's really important for us to think about the spaces that we can create to make sure that these conversations can happen and we can follow up on them. Right, and it's not just like, hey, send them to Ava's office, we'll get to that in season two. It's not just send them to Ava's office and hope the problem is solved, but like, hey, let's come to these agreements about how we're going to engage with school property. Right, how are we going to be safe and, like, who's going to follow up with that? And how are we going to communicate that back with the teachers who have been impacted by that? Right, and who are the people who are going to follow up on that?

Speaker 1:

Creating the time to do that, creating the structures to make sure that people have the availability of the structures, to make sure that people are communicated with, is something that is challenging, right? I'm curious in your experience as a person who is actively teaching but also dealing with student behavior. What has worked for you?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I think you really hit it when you talked about systems and structures, because I can do what I do in my classroom, but unless it's a priority for the larger administration and the other big stakeholders at school, it's not going to be this consistent transfer across the entire school, right?

Speaker 2:

And so if it's not a priority, then Jeanette and Jacob can sit down and do all that work. I can do all that work and also the impact of that work is going to be pretty limited, right, that sphere of influence is going to be pretty limited, but at the same time, I have to start somewhere, right. So I start in my classroom and it's honestly day one, just getting to know students and building that relationship, getting to know about their lives outside of school and then co-creating a community with them. Right, like it's not my classroom, it's our classroom, and what do students want to see in this classroom? And getting feedback and letting kids be honest about how the school year is going, what I'm doing well and what they wish I was doing differently being constant communication with students that's not just involved in classwork, I think is really, really important, and that stuff you can do on an individual level, the encouraging and pushing admin for more structural support. That's like the level two, I would say.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and like, beyond the purview of Ace the Science teacher, right, and when we think about doing this work right, and when I think about like viewing this work from an outsider, right. You know, just before this, you and I were talking about like, are we spreading seeds and hoping for growth or are we actually actually like cultivating garden, where you know restorative justice as a plant, like can flourish and grow? Right, eliminating weeds, like providing adequate sunlight and water, right, providing time and space for people to practice, grow and what's inherent to practice and growing is like messing up and like getting support then to correct and make things better. But you know that's the invitation for individuals who are working in school, as well as school leaders, to help you, yes, learn these practices as individuals, but make the time and build the structural capacity for people to really practice this way of being. Whew, so much within the context of this episode. I know we could spend lots more time like going into, like the little nuances of the things that came up from desk-ing.

Speaker 1:

You've heard from us. Now we want to hear from you. Drop your restorative justice reflections in the comments and if you want to join a live community conversation about our restorative justice lessons from ABA Elementary. Join us for a live event on Monday, july 31st. Link with more info in the description. But I want to transition to some fun questions. If you were to be cast on ABA Elementary as a new character, who would you be or what role would you like to play?

Speaker 2:

Okay, I would, would definitely be on the second floor. I can't handle the babies. I admire people who can handle the younger kids. Put me on the second floor with Jacob and I think it would be so cool. So I have a dual degree in English and science and I've only ever taught science, so maybe I'll be an English teacher and give that a shot. If I was on ABA Elementary there's so much you can do with English and I think just the comedy of the show that would be fantastic.

Speaker 1:

What's a storyline that you would like your character to play?

Speaker 2:

Okay, definitely openly queer. I'd love to be non-binary in the show because why not? And I would oh gosh, this is such a good question. I would be like, see, I feel like in real life I'm kind of like Jacob in the corny sense, so I don't want my character to be too corny, but I think I'd want to be that really cool teacher that no one I'm like. My life's a mystery. They have all these stories right, like Mr Johnson just makes you so confused by his life story. I'd be the teacher that you don't know anything at all and there's just like all these guesses, kind of like Rosadillas on Brooklyn Nine Nine, I'd be like I would be like that.

Speaker 1:

Gotcha, Gotcha. Oh my goodness. So much wisdom, so many laughs. It was such a good time. Thank you so much for being here. What are the ways that people can support you and your work in the ways that you want to be supported?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. You can find me on Instagram at teaching outside the binary. I have a website of the same name and I have tons of resources and things like that for inclusion, specifically LGBTQ, plus inclusion in the classroom. If you want to support my work even more, my best friend, sky, and I have a Patreon growing outside the binary and you can support our work financially there, but I'm really proud of the community that we've built on Instagram and Patreon, so we hope that you'll join us.

Speaker 1:

Beautiful, beautiful and all of those things, of course, linked below, in addition to all the ways that you can get connected to the sort of Amplify RJ community and all the ways that you can learn more about restorative justice as a way of being and even in the context of schools or the workplace. But for now, this is the end of this episode of restorative justice reflections. We'll be back soon with another episode diving deep into episode 12 of season one of Ava Elementary, but until then, take care.

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