Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Frontier Justice

Last week as I struggled to a relaxed attitude and impartial view of the proceedings in the courtroom where I was a prospective juror, I was struck by the number of educators who found themselves in the room with me and eventually in the jury box, if only to be excused by one counsel or the other. The thing that the lawyers seemed most concerned about when talking to teachers and principals was how we meted out justice at school.
"So, you hear both sides of the story, and you pick the side that sounds best?" There was the faintest hint of derision in the defense attorney's voice as he asked an eighth grade history teacher what she did when there was a conflict that needed to be resolved.
"Well, yeah," she replied. A few minutes later, she was sent on her way, leaving us all to wonder what answer would have gotten her to stay on the jury. I would have answered the same way. Maybe the way we resolve things in our corner of the world doesn't meet with the exacting standards of our judicial system. One of the attorneys even suggested that teachers tend to decide who was in the wrong based on the kids' past behavior.
Ridiculous, right? Taking one student's word over another? How could we expect to experience and real justice when we are so ruled by hearsay and innuendo? In thirteen years I can say with absolute certainty that absolute certainty is at a premium in elementary school. Discovering exactly how and why somebody's lunchbox got thrown into the girls' bathroom is not the kind of thing that I or my fellow teachers tend to spend hours divining. Accessories before and after the fact tend to skip lightly away while the unfortunate trigger man loses his recess for the rest of the week. Then again, after the fact I am more than happy to listen to any further discussion of the crime during or after such time as the punishment has been served. Contrary to current popular belief, snitching is still very much in vogue, especially among those who are serving a week's cafeteria duty.
I know why those teachers were turned loose. It was for the same reason they wouldn't have kept me. We tend to view each incident for what they are: interruptions of the learning they were sent there to do. We're looking to expedite, and you better believe we'll be happy to take a plea bargain down to "I pushed him accidentally" in order to get the apology necessary to resume the rest of the day. Due process? How about let's get on with it so we can all have our recess?
I suppose, upon reflection, it's probably a good thing I sat there for a day and a half with my mouth shut. It was safer that way.

1 comment:

Mrs. Id said...

I wonder what they wanted to hear? "Whenever there's a conflict, we gather all the kids together and listen to every side of the argument, with the understanding that each participant has his own deep emotional truth. Then, as the disputing parties go out to recess, the rest of us sit and discuss and deliberate, not only piecing together the facts but determining the seriousness of the supposed offense. When they return, we surround them in a love-circle and I, the teacher, describe the consequence, with the understanding that all can be redeemed and brought back into civilized tag or lunchroom companionship"?