With this posting, Traditionalist Teacher is abandoning (temporarily) the resolution to talk about old and bad ‘progressive’ ideas. If you have been following this series, don’t worry. There will be more. However, the flow of recent new events demands a response – because they are ominous for teachers of any stripe.
Traditionalist Teacher overheard a conversation recently as he walked through his neighborhood. Another pedestrian was walking up the sidewalk and saw an acquaintance sitting on the porch. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” said the walker.
“I was in jail’” came the response.
“Hey, sorry about that. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.”
Traditionalist Teacher has been musing on that conversation. By all appearances, both of the participants were young, twenty-five years of age at the most. Neither appeared to be well educated – the language has been edited.
Those are not the points that surprised Traditionalist Teacher. The first thing surprise was the fact that going to jail was being discussed so casually. In the neighborhood in which TT grew up about a half-century ago, a trip to the county jail would have been something to keep quiet about. These two young people were talking about it as though it was no more memorable than getting caught in the rain.
The second surprise was that the sidewalk philosopher apparently made no connection between the trip to the jail – the bad thing – and the character of the “good people” who are sent there. Perhaps in certain circles there has always been a kind of panache at being the “bad boy” who violates society’s rules. However, everyone – even his friends – knew that the bad boy was, well, bad.
That says a lot about the ways in which our culture has changed.
And then, since it is summer, and Traditionalist Teacher has a little extra time to muse, a thought occurred that connects that conversation to the news of the day and to our profession.
As the Summer of 2016 rolls on, the big story concerns the shootings of police officers. These officers have no control over the situations in which they find themselves. Most of them have been responding to emergencies, real and apparent, as is their duty. All they can do is to react to whoever and whatever they find when they get there. They are doing the job that society tells them to do and they are being killed – or at least severely injured.
Those who support the shooters are pointing to other situations in which other officers have shot civilians. It is far outside of Traditionalist Teacher’s competence to evaluate the justice or lack of justice present when a police officer shoots a civilian. Individual situations require individual responses. If the individual officers have committed a crime, they should be punished.
However, none of the officers that are being shot have committed these crimes. They are doing what society tells them to do – keeping order, and they are being punished for it.
So, the reader may well ask, why is an article about police activities being written in this place?
Fair enough. The main point here is that there are many commonalities between the roles of public school teachers and police officers. Obviously, we do not face life or death situations on a regular basis, but beyond that obvious difference there are many similarities.
We are also keepers of order. We are expected to maintain the safety of our classrooms and schools. Without a certain level of order and decorum, no teaching can take place. Like the police, we often have to make instant decisions without all of the facts. We do not create the situations, but we have no choice about whether we react to them. Sometimes we err.
We both are bound by due process and search and seizure rules.
We are often judged by a public that has only a superficial understanding of the tasks we face and the conditions under which we face them.
Like the police, our actions are reviewed by our supervisors. If that review finds that we acted badly, appropriate actions are supposed to be taken. No one debates the necessity of such a process. However, it is a process that is very open to abuse.
We both work for governmental entities, meaning that our ultimate supervisors are politicians. Occasionally, those politicians find it expedient to amplify our errors as a way of willfully ignoring the culpability of those who created the situation. Making the public happy can – and does – override the goals for which we were ostensibly hired.
Just as justice is not always popular, neither is education.
Unfortunately, we live in a society in which those that uphold the rules – and police officers and teachers are both in that category – are growing less and less popular.
That fact scares Traditionalist Teacher right down to the bone. In about a month, we are all going back to our classrooms. All of those classrooms contain students who have witnessed and been affected by the events of the summer. Their respect for the rules, already slight, will likely be diminished. As a rule keepers, that situation is scary for all of us.