Equality: A Parable

Author’s note: I fully acknowledge that the fundamental principles behind standardized testing and initiatives similar to No Child Left Behind are problematic, and that the scenario I’m about to present is idyllic and, for the purpose of the analogy, ignores many of the issues facing today’s educators. Just roll with it, people.

So there’s this Elementary School teacher.

Now, the board of education is caught up in the latest craze, and that craze is Standardized Testing. ‘All your kids have to take the same test,’ they say to the teacher. So the teacher decides that the most fair way to prepare her students for this test is to present the same material in the same fashion to all of them. Within the controlled environment of the classroom, everyone is presented with the same material. Everyone is given the same books to read. Everyone has access to the same tools, so all that’s left for the teacher to do is present the material to every student the same way. And so, she does.

Test day comes around. Now, some of the children, whose parents actively help them with their homework every night, who live near a library, who have access to computers, the internet, and various other resources outside of the classroom, or who just have an intuitive understanding of the material being taught, do extremely well on the test. Other students, however, don’t do particularly well. Some of these students have a lot of chores at home and don’t have a lot of time to study as a result, live in remote areas and can’t get to the nearest library reliably, don’t have access to the internet or other resources outside of the classroom, or just simply don’t learn the same way the other kids do. The teacher sees these results, but concludes that all she can do is continue to foster her perfectly equal classroom environment, and hope that things even out over time.

So it goes, a few weeks later, and it’s time for the next round of standardized tests. This time, the results are similar; the students who did well on the last test, still having the same advantages outside of class that allowed them to succeed, continued to do well, while the students who lacked those advantages continued to do poorly. There were some exceptions; some of the higher-achieving students allowed themselves to get complacent, and so their grades were average, and some of the lower-achieving students were able to find ways of overcoming their disadvantages, also achieving average grades. The teacher saw these marks, and concluded that her method of equality must be working, as the distribution is slightly more even now, and hopes that this trend will continue.

Come the third test, and these results are almost identical to the first test. The privileged students who allowed their grades to slip last time around decided to pull their figurative socks up, while the underprivileged students who did better last time were unable to reliably maintain their workarounds for their disadvantages. At this point, the end of the school year is approaching, and it’s looking like a lot of the disadvantaged students may have to repeat this grade. She alters her classroom routine to dedicate more time and attention to the disadvantaged students. She even assigns some TAs specifically to work with some of these kids to prevent them from falling behind. She holds meetings with some of the parents of these kids to work out arrangements where they can get more help outside of the classroom as well.

The end of the school year arrives, and with it, the last circulation of standardized tests. This time, many of the students who previously did poorly ended up doing much better, some even surpassing the kids who were always high-achievers. As a result, all of the students successfully advance to the next grade.

Two students, both of whom were consistently high-achievers throughout the school year, are talking on the bus ride home.
“I hated our teacher,” says one. “She played favorites and spent all her time with the dumb kids”.
“You said it,” agrees the other. “It’s like she didn’t even notice how good we did on ALL the tests!”


In which Joselyn is Not A Professional

I know I said my next post would be about the media’s portrayal of the millennials, but then the verdict came down on the George Zimmerman case and I got all fired up about something else. As such, I am invoking the “this is a personal blog, not a professional one” clause and shelving the millennials post for now.

For those of you that don’t know, George Zimmerman, age 28, was the neighborhood watch for a gated community in Sanford, Florida. One day, a 17-year-old kid named Trayvon Martin, who was staying with his father’s fiancee in the neighborhood, was out in the rain, and Zimmerman figures that the kid was up to no good. After calling the police, to report a kid for standing in the rain and looking at houses, Zimmerman was told not to engage Martin further. Promptly following the call, Zimmerman exited his vehicle, engaged Martin on his own, and in the heat of the ensuing fight, shot Martin dead.

On Martin’s body they found a package of Skittles and some fruit juice. So for those of you taking notes for the upcoming Ro-Sham-Bo tournaments, “Gun” beats “Skittles”.

Initially, the police department of Sanford, believing Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense, did not press charges. Only after international attention was drawn to the case did the chief of police decide that MAYBE Zimmerman’s claim that after engaging Martin against police instruction, he was forced to draw a gun on an unarmed teenager, might be a tad specious (reserving the right to editorialize under the “I’m not being paid for journalistic integrity, or at all” clause). Eventually, the case went to trial. Zimmerman’s attorney (who was only doing his job), in his closing arguments for the defense, claimed that Martin WAS armed, that he was armed with the sidewalk upon which Zimmerman and Martin fought. Now, being an avid Clue player, I’m no stranger to the concept of a blunt instrument being used as a deadly weapon, but unless I’m mistaken, both of the people in this engagement had relatively equal access to the deadly sidewalk in question, and I’m still pretty sure that the strategic advantage would go to the person who was carrying a gun over the one who was carrying a recently purchased snack from 7-11.

Nonetheless, the court bought this complete nonsense argument, and Zimmerman, who, acting against police instruction, brandishing a deadly weapon, having killed an unarmed person who was 11 years his junior, was acquitted of murder-with-intent-to-physically-harm and manslaughter, the latter charge being defined as the act of killing a human being. Now, Zimmerman has confessed to the fatal shooting of Martin, which means that the only way being acquitted of manslaughter makes any sense whatsoever is if Martin is somehow not legally considered a human being.

And here’s the part where I mention that Treyvon Martin was black.

Now, I will go on record stating that I absolutely, ABSOLUTELY believe that this killing was racially motivated. It is clear from the transcript of Zimmerman’s initial call to the police that Zimmerman knew the color of Martin’s skin, and that he had already decided, based on no evidence whatsoever, that Martin was a criminal looking to cause trouble. Having been a teenager once, and having made a few late-night trips to 7-11 on foot, and being an experienced walker of around and looker of about, I feel confident saying that none of Martin’s described behaviour is at all unusual, and the only thing out of place about this situation, in Zimmerman’s mind, was the color of Martin’s skin. However, I know that there are enough people out there already poised to remind me that Zimmerman is of mixed race, with half of his family being white, and the other being Hispanic. As such, I’m obliged here to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, the man had a history of domestic violence and violence against police officers (behaviour that the judge in the Martin case deemed “run of the mill”), it is entirely possible that he just had a hard-on for vigilante justice and an itchy trigger finger, and Martin was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fine. Try not to open your mouth too wide while your head is buried in the sand, that stuff is hard to clean out of moist places. I may be able (if unwilling) to accept that Zimmerman’s actions, as an individual, were not racially motivated, but the handling of this case, right up until the verdict, certainly was.

The Sanford police department had several incidents, prior to the Martin shooting, of inequitable treatment of both black victims and black perpetrators, and the police chief at the time of the initial investigation was dismissed, citing other such incidents. And I don’t care about the lacerations on Zimmerman’s head, if there’s a corpse, there needs to be a full investigation, not a five-hour questioning period after which it is decided no investigation is needed. Unlike what you see in CSI, crimes actually take a while to solve. Meanwhile, the usual gang of idiots in the media pounced on the fact that Martin used marijuana (a drug known to send users into violent fits of rage, dontchaknow), got suspended from school (like me, a straight-laced honor student and known white person, did in Grade 7), and had pictures of guns on his phone (it is a well documented fact that having a picture of a gun is a serious crime). Public discussion about the trial? Look no further than @YesYoureRacist’s twitter feed to get a snapshot of what lovely things people are saying about Martin. Think this is an isolated incident? Frontline says no. Statistically, a black person’s killing is up to four times more likely to be ruled as “justified” as long as the killer is white.

But of course, there’s more to it than race, and it would be remiss of me not to address that as well. While it is true that Zimmerman was specifically seeking out black guys in his *ahem* jurisdiction as head of neighborhood watch, the simple truth is that this idea got into his head because of a culture that celebrates and glorifies violence, dividing people into “good guy” and “bad guy” categories. Violence is always ok as long as it’s the good guys doing it to the bad guys. In Zimmerman’s mind, he was a good guy, and thus was completely justified in engaging a bad guy with a deadly weapon. Yes, I’ve brought up several times that he did what he did against police advice, but you can be absolutely certain that, had Martin actually been the party responsible for the number of break-ins that had allegedly occurred in the neighborhood, those same police officers would be thanking Zimmerman for putting himself in harm’s way to bring down a criminal. That’s what our culture teaches us, in the end: once some one has been declared a bad guy, they are absolutely fair game for any kind of treatment in the name of justice. They cease to be human and become something less, in the eyes of our society.

And that, ultimately, is what the defense managed to establish in court; that Trayvon Martin deserved to be killed because he was less than what can be considered human. For my readers that know me personally, if you’ve ever wondered why I’m so passionate about Social Justice, this is it, right here. It is because it is so easy to convince people that some people aren’t human, and don’t deserve to be treated like humans.

Zimmerman has to live with what he did. I do not wish any harm to come to him, and I would not support any kind of reciprocation against him. But let us not, for an instant, confuse what has happened here with “justice”.