Some schools in Norfolk (and the police!!) are training their staff in restorative practice. What this means is that professionals are enabled to mediate and solve disagreements by finding a solution that is palatable to all parties in any conflict situation. Needless to say, this involves a whole load of communication.
This seems like a massive shift in fundamental philosophy from when I was at school - when anything that rattled the status quo was challenged by automatically dishing out a punishment. (The conflict being identified as a pupil not doing what the teacher said s/he must do). Now being the hippie I am, I completely approve of restorative practice! Unfortunately, however, attitudinal changes like this don't happen overnight or pervade the whole of society!
I have had debates with many people about which works better - the consequence of a punishment to clearly show something is wrong or time dedicated to listening to all parties to attain understanding and the best way forward. I am surprised by how many people think a simple punishment to match a crime is obviously the answer - no debate. However, I have also seen first hand, as a teacher, how a punishment might suppress a behaviour but not change the underlying issues that caused it in the first place. Restorative practice might have more chance of doing this.
The following example of behaviour suppression was once used in some training I attended to illustrate this point. For those of us that sometimes venture over the speed limit, when we drive past a speed camera, we slow down. Once past the camera, most of us then forget to take notice of our speed (especially if we are late). Our behaviour is suppressed momentarily but our underlying attitude has not been altered (i.e. we still think it's OK to speed a bit).
However, if I was shown the potentially devastating impact of speeding and made to reflect on it - my undelying attitude might change and I might consistently modify my behaviour because of my changed belief.
I might take this example further though. If I was going to be fined for speeding and I couldn't afford it, it might slow me down. If I had nine points on my liscence and risked losing it by speeding, I might slow down. So maybe the threat of the right punishment might suppress behaviour in order to keep the roads safe for everyone. Perhaps punishment should be renamed a preventative consequence, be made very clear and hopefully never have to be issued.
So preventative measures (in the form of a possible punishment) could be appropriate to help clearly define undesirable behaviour. This alongside helping people to change their attitudes to elicit desirable behaviour might just be the answer.
That's that sorted then. I am off to my attitude change class now.....