Dr. Benjamin Spock, having achieved fame for his work as a pediatrician and author of child-rearing manuals, became politically active in the 1960s and 1970s, campaigning against nuclear weapons and the Vietnam war. He said, essentially, that he didn’t want the work and love he had spent on children to get blown up or shot to death in Southeast Asia.
My politics are not those of Dr Spock, nor was my approach to my daughter his. But I understand.
My work is the intersection of two kinds of love. As Sir Roger Scruton noted, great teachers aren’t great (nor am I great, though I can aspire to that) because they love their students. They are great because they love their subjects, and are determined to pass their knowledge of those subjects to another generation. But I love my students as well. I teach at a college that serves a significant percentage of African-American kids, a significant percentage of poor kids, a significant percentage of first-generation students (as you might expect, there’s a fair amount of overlap on that Venn diagram, but it isn’t entire.) In that respect, I teach at a college whose student body largely mirrors the demographic makeup of my state. And because I love those students, and because I love my subject, I want the knowledge to keep moving, and I want to give them the skills and wisdom to make their lives better.
I don’t do that work to see it squandered, either by my students’ bad decisions or by the bad decisions of the agents of our society. Usually, when I talk to students, I focus on the first part. But it isn’t the only part. I don’t want to share the wisdom of Johnson, the ribaldry of Chaucer, the toughness of Housman, only to have it crushed on a sidewalk.
I’m not one of the nincompoops who believes that my way of life could continue in the absence of law enforcement, and I know that every necessary encounter with a law enforcer bears the possibility of violence. (This may in turn be a reminder that every law we pass bears the cost — financial and human — of enforcement, and cause us to wonder if every law we pass is worth that cost. But that’s a discussion for another day.) The police apprehended the killer of my parents, and provided the evidence to serve justice insofar as it could be served. I’m grateful for the police.
But my brother had also been a cop. I know about bad apples. And I don’t want to see the wisdom (not mine, except perhaps by inheritance) and the love that I spend on my students squandered.
Which brings us to this. Yesterday, as I was having dinner, I saw this image online.
I can’t really speak to the second of these points — I don’t know how practicable the process is in a split-second situation, and I can see room for human weakness. But I believe the other three are eminently reasonable, and that transparency and accountability are essential.
Will this bring justice? No. I quit believing in justice on earth when my best friend collapsed and died when we were thirteen years old, and the lesson was reinforced to me almost eleven years ago. And I don’t believe in the notion of social justice, as I think justice is a retail concept, not a wholesale one. If there is justice, it can only be justice for individuals, each x that makes up the larger y.
But it might bring less waste of life, of effort, of love. That’s not a bad start.