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How do you teach a socially acceptable concept of justice?

One of the most difficult ideas to convey to children is that of justice, as reflected in the social order. The concept itself is complex and multi-leveled. It has to do with the development of fair rules of behavior for human interaction; with the interpretation of these rules in the context of daily life; with acculturation of new members of the community to these rules; and with the fair monitoring and enforcement of these rules. Each of these aspects involves a great deal of human wisdom and judgment, much of which comes only through accumulated experience.


The challenge is this: how do you teach a socially acceptable concept of justice to children in a way that will acculturate them, interest them, involve them, and affect their future behavior? The answer lies in two words: through experience.


The chief non-family social setting of children in developed societies is the school. What better place to begin to give children the experience of democratic rule making, with all the trappings? Where better to learn the art of debate, the need for taking other people’s views into account, the benefits of open mindedness, the balancing forces of personal and community interests, the nature of political power-blocs, the joy of victory and the anguish of defeat, the ability to recoup a loss and plan for future again?


– Excerpts from book, “The Sudbury Valley School Experience”


In BeMe, rules are proposed, debated, voted on, revised and refined by the Parliament meeting, and enforced and interpreted by Judicial Committee (JC). In this weekly update, let’s take a look at happenings related to Judiciary Committee.


In the beginning of BeMe it was a very common scene where a victim child approaches a faculty demanding for grievance redressal. It is still the case with new children and few existing children. We have constantly maintained that the grievance is redressed with judiciary committee.


The number of cases filed in this semester has been phenomenal. We have already crossed 100 number. First 3-4 weeks of this semester, the cases were being heard almost on the very same day on which they were filed. In fact, to keep up with the case filing rate, JC has also organized “case marathons” couple of times in this semester. It looks like the JC has taken to their heart and making sure the legal maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied”. This seems to be a learning evolved from experience in last two years.


Types of cases filed: In many cases, complainants demand just an apology from the accused. In few cases, complainants demand certain behavior from peers (example: “they are not including me in their group”, “this child is not sharing ___ with me”). These type of cases bring an opportunity to do some reflection on self and create awareness about how such things may not be imposed on others. Few cases get filed on a group of children or entire BeMe community. Such cases are heard in “Panchayat”. In Panchayat, JC committee conducts a hearing of cases in the presence of the entire BeMe community. One such case was heard this week. The case demanded group discipline with regard to safety during an outdoor trip. The community behavior during the last outdoor was reflected.


Some children are repeating the offenses. JC practices allowance, giving space and time for the accused to reflect and own their actions. Some children are unhappy about the allowance because the children who are repeating the offenses are perceived as privileged. Few cases of repeating offenses get forwarded to respective Sakhas for deeper working with those children.


And there are times when a rule is violated but a case is not filed. In some instances, the victim just gives an oral warning – “if you repeat this, I will file a case”. In some instances, there is decision making, “Will I lose the friendship, if I file a case?”. In some instances, genuine allowance is exhibited at an individual level.


All are equal in BeMe. Faculty members are not spared. Cases are filed on faculty too.


There have been assaults on JC members by the accused during the case hearings. The JC members have been patient and they are trying hard to give justice to victims and at the same being compassionate to the accused.

Comment (1)

  • Ritu

    Tough job of running the JC, panchayat and shakhas. would like to see one of the sessions as just an observer… Am so glad Bangalore has a setup based on Sudbury Valley model ?