What Is Serving on the Judicial Committee About?

Hanna: I am talking to Teddy Barnes, who is 17. He has been in school 2½ years and has served on the JC twice, the second time in October, 2017.

Hanna: Teddy, have you ever been brought up?

Teddy: I have—for littering, once which was an accident, of course.

Hanna: What I’d like you to tell me is what the JC means to you, what you observed, anything you want to say about the JC.

Teddy: Alright. Well, I’ll start with the positives. Everyone as long as they speak up gets an equal say in what happens. The JC has a lot of control over sentencing, with some School Meeting input later. I like how you can get creative with it in a way that would help the person who has gotten in trouble fix what they’ve done wrong. And you can do that in a number of ways by giving out sentences that correspond to that person’s complaint, which is nice. One thing I must say is a lot of times the people in the JC are tired and one or two people are talking much more than the others, which isn’t a problem because everyone is still paying attention, raising their hand when a motion is going to be passed. We all have something to say at some point. But it does feel that some people are much more into it than others.

Hanna: Do you mean the staff too?

Teddy: The staff usually have a few things to say about each complaint. But I would say the clerks are the ones who really are putting in their all, which is not to say the rest of us don’t. We all have things to say and things to do. For example, in a situation where the JC is really strapped for time, and they need to get a complaint done—they can subcommittee that complaint to a specific person on the JC. Anyone can take it. The subcommittee person looks into it. Like, for example, if someone missed a day of school and they didn’t notify the office that they were going to miss it, the person who got subcommitteed that complaint would find that person the next day, and talk to them and inform them that they’ve been brought up for this, and take care of that without taking up the JC’s time.
      I had a subcommittee where someone left a pizza box out by the swings.

Hanna: What did you do?

Teddy: I started with asking the people by the swings if they had ordered pizza. None of them said they did. So I figured either they were lying, which I shouldn’t assume right away, or maybe that pizza box was brought there by someone else who visited the swings. So I asked around in the school if they go on the swings.

Hanna: Were you systematic about it?

Teddy: I was. Unfortunately, we never found out who did put the pizza box outside because there wasn’t a lot to go on. The pizza box didn’t have a name on it, and there were no initials on it, like there usually is for food. So I couldn’t figure out what happened there.

Hanna: How much time did you spend on it? 

Teddy: About a half hour the first day, and I think ten or twenty minutes the next day.

Hanna: Why do you think it’s important?

Teddy: Because I think the JC doesn’t always have a proper way to figure out who did what. Cases like this, where people order food, there’s not a lot to go on. I bring this up because the experience is great. I loved it. 

Hanna: Do you think people lie to the JC?

Teddy: There are three or four people who I have seen who seem to have blatantly lied to the JC. But in general people are very honest in JC because they just want to be done with whatever they’ve been brought up for and take care of it. The complaints usually aren’t huge. And when they are, people do tend to be honest. 

Hanna: Did you have huge complaints?

Teddy: Yes, one of them was someone was brought up for pulling down the pants of another student, which qualifies as sexual harassment.

Hanna: How old was the someone?

Teddy: The person who did it, I believe was 11 or 12.

Hanna: And the person who it was done to is about 15.

Teddy: They were teasing. They are good friends, but it was very inappropriate for the school, especially since there were kids watching.

Hanna: Are you aware all the time of the influence that the teenagers have on the little kids and the atmosphere in the school, both as a person and as a JC person?

Teddy: Yes. There are many young kids who will be swearing at a very early age because of the older kids around them, which is generally allowed and is generally fine at this school. I don’t think it’s horrible, like people outside the school might think, but I do think that they need to learn that while swearing would be fine here, it may not be fine in front of the wrong person.

Hanna: Would your parents care?

Teddy: My parents would not care. It would be something that they would consider part of the community and as long as I was happy, as long as I was having fun, and had a lot of friends, I don’t think they would pay any mind to it.

Hanna: I want to ask you a more general question. Assuming you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t know what the JC is, how would you explain to them what the JC does, whether it’s important for this school, and how it is?

Teddy: Well, I would start by saying that this school doesn’t have your average punishment system, something like that. And I would explain that the JC is something that is put in place for the students to administer justice to people who have done something wrong. You could consider it a mini court for the school. If you see that somebody has done something wrong, you can write a complaint for the Judicial Committee. And every morning at 11:00, a group of people will come to this room and start JC and they will look at the complaints and then would call in people.

Hanna: What is the JC composed of?

Teddy: Students. The School Meeting Chairman chooses one student from each age group. And sometimes two of the same age group for the older students. Plus there are two elected clerks.

Hanna: What about staff?

Teddy: There is always one staff who is in the room. I’ve never seen any of the younger kids, or anyone, in general, come up with a sentence that is deemed inappropriate. But I believe that the staff is there in JC to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

Hanna: Who is more strict—the kids or the staff, in your experience?

Teddy: It depends on the staff. Some staff are very lenient and others will really want to push the punishment that we vote for.

Hanna: Do you feel there is justice here?

Teddy: In public school, a lot of bad things happened which I don’t feel comfortable mentioning, and so a lot of people got in trouble, including myself. And sometimes I would think punishments that were given were unfair or not all the teachers knew exactly what was happening and because of that would sometimes punish the victims. But here in JC because it’s made up of students who are on the same wavelength with most of the victims and kids who have done things wrong, we can pick out what is happening and what people have done and what sentences fit very well. Because we’ve all been through it. And we’re young enough to understand both sides.
      We also have witnesses in the JC so that anyone who has seen this happen, who is in the same room, or maybe outside in the hall, would be brought in to also give their testimony, or mention what happened so that we can be really sure we have the gist of it.

Hanna: So, the fairness of the system is important to you as a student here in the school, even though you personally don’t get into trouble? Why do you care if student X gets into trouble? Why do you care? If he’s not even your friend.

Teddy: Because I love this school. Even if I don’t get in trouble, I would like to see the place that I’m in for five hours a day be a place where nobody is getting in trouble, nothing bad is happening. The JC helps with that, especially with specific consequences that we figure out that aren’t generalized like another school. They’re very specific, very unique. I like to see that because I don’t want to be in the corner hanging out with my friends and outside of the room have it be chaos. That’s not a good environment to be in, especially for the younger kids at the school.

Hanna: You care about the younger kids?

Teddy: Yeah. Now this has only happened once but if one of the younger kids I hear across the hall is upset or maybe they’re crying, I’ll think well, what happened? And how could we fix that?

Hanna: Do you believe that kids learn from their mistakes? In the JC. You know, they littered, they got trash, would it help to stop their littering?

Teddy: For certain things like littering, yes. If you left a plastic bottle out and left the room and you got brought up for it, you would probably remember: okay, I need to make sure I dispose of this bottle properly next time. But for some people, some students will get in trouble and they’ll hate that they get in trouble. They’ll hate that they keep getting brought up and so it starts to make them think: oh, well, whatever, I’m just going to do this bad thing to make them angry, which doesn’t make sense, but in their mind it does. And that’s happened before where people will just get very upset, seemingly just because maybe they’re the type of person they are. But I have seen that not just here but everywhere when it comes to punishments.

Hanna: So here we are, we do not supervise the little kids. We do not. And basically would you agree with me there’s almost no bullying here?

Teddy: I think it’s because there’s not a lot of stress here. You have no quizzes, no tests, no homework, no people getting up early in the morning to go and listen to a teacher lecturing them on math for an hour and a half. And because you don’t have that here and because here you can have fun and do what you want, it’s alleviating a lot of that stress and anxiety that people have and so they’ll be less likely to act out on it.

Hanna: You think that people are mostly good by nature?

Teddy: Here, yes.

Hanna: Do you believe that stress and mistreatment brings out the negative in people?

Teddy: Yes. I don’t think anybody bullies for no reason. I think there’s always something that would drive you. And from my experience, it’s been school that has driven people to do things like that. Like I was bullied in elementary school, and in middle school I realized that the person who was bullying me at the time had been going through a lot of hard stuff that was only amplified by the amount of work that they were doing, that they thought was unfair. 

Hanna: So it was anger directed at the wrong address?

Teddy: Yes.

Hanna: Did you forgive him, once you figured it out? 

Teddy: In a way . . . Yes, I have forgiven them, but I haven’t forgotten what happened.

Hanna: Well, do you think it’s ethical for a person who is suffering to take out his frustration on another innocent person? You think that’s okay? 

Teddy: I don’t think it’s okay. But I think that is really likely to happen and I don’t think that without a system like this you can do much about it. You’d have to, after it happens you would try to fix it. But here it just doesn’t happen, in general. You don’t have to fix it, it’s not there.

Hanna: What did you, personally get out of serving on the JC twice?

Teddy: It showed me what it meant to be a leader, because, in some instances, like I mentioned before, a lot of people are very quiet. It is the morning, after all. So, I would take times to speak up and really push everyone along. I thought it was great to be able to decide what happens, to be part of this mini-court. I thought it was nice.
      Like I said, I love the school. I was going through anxiety and depression before I came here. And this school kind of fixed that. And I want to make sure that one of the only places outside of my house that I’ve felt so comfortable in is just as comfortable for everyone else. Because, if not, then that’s a huge waste of potential here because this is such a great school.
      Also, through the JC I’ve met a lot of people, a lot of nice people. I’ve figured out a lot of people’s general thought process on the JC. I’ve seen a lot, I guess you could say, on the JC. And I think it was good for me to see; I usually hang out in this one room at school. And I think that going to JC really got me to see what else is going on. And I think that was good.

Hanna: What do you want to do when you grow up?

Teddy: When I grow up I want to do something that involves socializing—a job that would allow me to talk to people, because I have a lot to say. I have a lot of opinions. And I would want a job that would allow me to talk to people—whether it would be a tour guide maybe, maybe a therapist at some point. Something that allows me to talk, get a lot of things off my chest, keep me motivated.

Hanna: Do you think it’s a good idea that the two clerks are a boy and a girl? Or, you think it doesn’t matter?

Teddy: It depends on the people. I think in general it doesn’t matter who they are as long as they’re able to get along.

Hanna: The reason I asked you is because you put a lot of emphasis on being on the wavelength of understanding, so I was wondering if being a boy and a girl makes a difference in JC matters.

Teddy: Well, I guess for clerks I would say a boy and a girl would be fine because they might have different perspectives. I think that’s good because on the JC not everyone is going to agree. (And if everyone agrees, that may not be a good sign. It means there’s not a lot of discussion.) A boy and a girl might have different perspectives on things so I think that could be good. But it would also be perfectly fine if you had two people of the same gender. It just means that maybe they would get along more, maybe they would be able to focus more.
      I think every combination of JC clerk is good in its own way, and I don’t think there’s ever really a problem.
      There may be days where someone is in a really bad mood and because of that might suggest a punishment that’s more than is deserved. But that’s why there are so many people in the JC, and that’s why we have a staff too—just to make sure things don’t go too out of hand. So I think in those situations we still have things under control.

Hanna: Usually the clerks have been on the JCs for a while. Do you think that people learn from the way the former JC’s run?

Teddy: I think that’s a big part of being clerk. If you were on JC before but you weren’t clerk, seeing how the clerks interact with the rest of the JC and the people written down on the complaints, I think that is huge. Some students maybe if they don’t like the way the clerks are doing things, if they become clerk they can change things up. And if not, if they are fine with it, then they can do the same thing. I’m making it sound like there are people who disagree with the clerks, which shouldn’t happen because if they do disagree with the clerks, they can speak up—which has been done.

Hanna: What makes the JC fair?

Teddy: It’s fair because it’s students. We can see from a perspective of everyone. We know there are some situations where someone does something wrong and it’s clear that an adult may not be able to understand their mindset because this young generation of people has very strange ways of doing things. So I think having students that understand that is good. I think that’s what makes it fair.

Hanna: I think it’s so interesting because from the staff perspective I would say that listening patiently to all involved, trying to put aside your prejudice, getting as much evidence as possible, would be the strength of the JC. And you are talking so much more about the psychology and the empathy and being able to understand the person who was the perpetrator. It seems to me that is what’s important to you.

Teddy: That is important to me. And that’s not to say that it isn’t good to be actually looking into clues and to figuring out like who was there, what happened beforehand, did these two people have some sort of history. That is just as important, but that’s what everyone else is looking into. I like to see things from a different perspective.

Hanna: This is all very interesting. Thank you so much.


Note:  This interview was originally published in the Sudbury Valley School Journal, Volume 47, Number 2, Winter 2018.


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