Thursday, December 4, 2014

Broken Systems

I’ll start with the disclaimers. If you know me, you may already have an idea where I stand on these issues. If you know in advance that you disagree with me and are not open to another perspective, but just want to fuel your own flame (I get it. I’m like that sometimes.), just move on. I’m not going to change your mind. You aren’t going to change mine – certainly not in an online forum. So, agree to disagree and move on with your life. If you want to talk about it face to face, hit me up! ;)

Secondly, I’m talking to people who consider themselves Christians. Yes, some of this certainly applies outside of that realm, but if you don’t share that perspective with me, I may just sound like a crazy lunatic to you. I’m okay with that. Hopefully you’ll still be my friend, despite my crazy lunacy! :)

With that said, here goes nothing.

All systems are broken. All of them. There is no such thing as a perfect system, and no Christian person should die on the hill of defending any system. However, we should all be constantly looking critically at the systems of which we are a part. We should be examining them and asking ourselves if we are contributing to the brokenness (through action or even silence) or if we are contributing to the healing. 

It has been interesting to watch many of my colorblind friends (but you know how I feel about that already) suddenly regain their ability to see color in the past few weeks, asking things like, “Where are the protests for black-on-black crime?!” Well friends, they are out there. They don’t get the same media coverage, but there are plenty of protests for black-on-black crime. Also, you might have missed them because you are colorblind anyway, so you wouldn’t know who was protesting what. ;) Black-on-black crime occurs at a rate of 91%, while white-on-white crime occurs at a rate of 83%. Where are the protests for white-on-white crime? It seems we’ve got our own issues. We get angry that the media coverage of a white police officer killing a black man is more significant than a black police officer killing a white man. Guess what? Plenty of black people are angry that the media coverage of the protesting of black-on-black crime is so insignificant as well. Plenty of black people are angry that the media coverage of all of the recent protests are focused on the opportunists and those people who chose to become violent, while it seems that the vast majority of protestors were quite peaceful. Guess what? We’re all part of this broken media system. Every single news outlet in the country knows that these kinds of stories will get a zillion clicks, views, and comments. We feed that machine. Want more fair coverage? Stop watching, clicking, and commenting. Want things to continue exactly as they have? Click away. 

With that said, let’s talk about the police. Actually, no. That will get everyone all riled up. Let’s talk about teachers and the education system instead. Everyone’s fine with criticizing them. Good news! I’m a teacher. I can take the heat. (Snarky, snarky girl!)

Our education system, like our media system (and all systems), is broken. There are lots of ways that this brokenness manifests itself, but I want to focus on one particular area and try to draw some analogies. 

If I walk in to any school and go into a secret room to take an anonymous poll of teachers, and ask one question – “Which math teacher’s students are most likely to fail the big test?” – I am willing to bet that one or two names will be repeated over and over. In most schools, although teachers are not always in one another’s classrooms, we have an idea about what is going on. Maybe we teach the grade level above, and we’ve noticed that teachers from X classroom always perform really well, while teachers from Y classroom always seem to struggle. We know what’s up. Maybe Y teacher doesn’t show up to many professional development courses. Maybe that teacher’s “water cooler gossip” indicates that he hates the job. Maybe they just flat out seem incompetent. If you’ve worked in any job, you’ve had coworkers who were less competent than others, and everybody knew it. Right?. But what do you do about it? Do you “tattle” on your coworker, on suspicion of suckiness? Is that even a thing? Do you offer your help to them? Do you stay out of it because it’s not really your problem? Do you just thank your lucky stars that you aren’t in administration? Well, what if your kid gets assigned to that teacher’s class? You’ll probably make sure your child gets a transfer right out of there! But are you responsible for all the other kids? That’s a tough question. 

Let’s change the situation. What if you suspect a teacher of having an inappropriate relationship with a student? So, it’s no longer just that students are getting a subpar education, but perhaps they are at risk. You don’t have real evidence, but you’ve got a bad feeling. You see the way Y teacher looks at one student in particular. It just doesn’t sit well with you. Let’s say, like with the poor teaching quality, you decide not to get involved because it’s really not your problem. Besides, it’s just a feeling. Well, stuff goes down, and your gut feeling was right. Oh no. Are you partly to blame for what happened to that student? Should you have spoken up? 

What if that student was your child? Would you feel that all the people who contributed to the situation (actively, or by remaining silent) should be held accountable? Probably. 

There are lots of good teachers out there. There are also lots of bad teachers. What is the role and responsibility of good teachers in these scenarios? In my opinion, it is always to err on the side of the student… but that is HARD. It puts teachers in uncomfortable situations with coworkers. It can make you a target, an annoyance, or a whistleblower.  Anyone who has had a job with any coworkers can understand that. These kinds of things are not easy to do, at all. There have been plenty of times when I’ve failed to speak up about issues, and there will probably be plenty more in the future. However, as a Christian, shouldn’t I always be critically evaluating the system of which I am a part, and my particular role in it? Yes. It’s my job to do justly, even when it’s uncomfortable.

So NOW let’s talk about police. I have several friends who are police officers, and I do believe they are good ones. I hope they see me as a good teacher. I hope they won’t take any of this as critical of them as individuals, but that they will understand (and possibly even agree with) the concept that the system is broken. There are good police officers, and there are bad police officers. I’m sure I could go into that secret room and take that anonymous poll, and ask “Which police officer is most likely to shoot an unarmed black teenager?” and probably get one or two names over and over. That should bother us. 

Many of you read and shared Voddie Baucham’s recent piece, and probably skimmed over this part:
I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”
I commend Baucham for forgiving those who treated him unjustly, but it should bother all the rest of us that we live in a society where a man like Voddie Baucham is face down on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, at the hands of those who are supposed to “do justice.” These types of stories are repeated over and over by many highly respected black men. That’s not okay. It’s not okay that these men were humiliated in front of their children. I seriously cannot imagine if a police officer had treated my dad that way, for no reason, in front of me. How could I ever look at police without fear and suspicion in the future? It is no wonder there is fear and distrust of the police in the black community. 

So, here’s the issue. The bad police who did this to Baucham certainly worked with good police who never would have done such a thing. Are the good police at all responsible here? Should they have spoken up? Did they have a gut feeling about these guys? Had they overheard water cooler gossip that indicated some racist tendencies? Did they think, “Well, that’s just that generation. He’ll be retiring soon.”? It’s hard enough to speak up if you are a teacher in a school. How much harder is it for police who have to count on one another in what could literally be life or death situations? How do the police create a culture where fairly upholding the law is more important than brotherhood, or having each other’s backs, or any of that? I don’t know. Seriously. No idea. 

A couple days after the Ferguson verdict, there was a story in the news about a police officer who wrote on Facebook, “Damn cockroaches! Squashem all!!...” Oh my gosh. How is this guy a police officer in the United States in 2014? Not only is he blatantly racist, but he was bold enough to put it on the internet for the world to see! Surely some of the good police officers who work with him have picked up on this. What have they done about it? I don’t know, but for some reason he’s still a cop. 

I do know this, though. Several years ago, our government started looking at our broken education system very critically and added in a bunch of tests and other things, in order to deal with some of these issues of teacher quality and fair education. Teacher pay is now tied to student test performance, and the whole system has gone from being one kind of broken to a different kind of broken, with very little teacher input into how the problems should be solved. I think the police are about to be in for the same thing. To you good police officers, I commend you for your good work. I hope you continue to do good work. I hope you also become very vocal about how best to fix the brokenness in your system before the government forces “fixes” on you without consulting you. 

So basically I have no answers here, just lots of questions. I hope that you agree that no system (including the police) is above reproach. As Christians, we do have to constantly evaluate our roles in our own broken systems, and especially, our silence. We are either contributing to the brokenness or to the healing. Choose wisely.