Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Blame Game

I don't normally go onto websites to read through comments, but I was intrigued by the recent story about Senator Mana Silva Taijeron's husband going ballistic at Unatalan Middle School. After talking to a teacher that works there, it seemed pretty cut and dried as to what happened. The father of the student was clearly angry and upset at the prospect of his daughter being bullied, but his behavior probably shouldn't be excused as aggressive caring. He behaved in a reckless way towards students at the school and towards staff there, and made assumptions about his daughter being mistreated or not being taken care of when he really had no idea what was going on, and didn't want to listen to anyone explain the situation to him.

Since its an election year I expected the comments to be pretty divided between Democrats and Republicans. Then I remembered that on Guam the difference between Democrat and Republicans doesn't really exist, and is generally just based on who your friends and your family are. I didn't see Democrats taking her to task over the behavior of her husband, but neither did I see Republicans coming to her aid. The response was so muddled it was hard to figure out the coordinates of any discussion.

Some responded the way I did, that the father had the right to be concerned by did not have the right to react the way he did and should definitely apologize. It seemed many more however seemed to feel that the real issue here was not the father's behavior, nor the actions of school employees, but instead the system itself, Guam DOE, where children are not being taken of properly in general.

Many a commenter put their own experiences into this and thus excused the behavior of the father because they could imagine the frustration he felt, and they would want to be able to unleash a similar level of righteous, frustrated anger towards the system of GDOE.

It was interesting as people talked about their own experiences, articulating their own personal perspectives on how Guam's schools are failing to see the way in which schools, in particular public schools shoulder so much of the responsibility and blame in a society.

Communities are sustained through many things. Writers of nationalism and social contracts propose different things as being the stuff that can make disparate isolated human beings, see themselves as part of something greater, something more substantial. Media can make people feel connected. Shared culture, shared language. Dreams and memories of sacrifices. Even seductive nostalgia can have its place in this formation of a community. But the idea of "blame" plays a significant role as well, namely the game of where to place it.

Public schools, represent the state of education. Tax payer money goes into them, the common people attend them, as opposed to those who are able to afford more elite or alternative options .The schools are a barometer for a society. If there is faith in the schools and faith in those who work in them, it is derived from a general idea that one generation is taking good care of the next and everything should be good looking towards the future.

But at the same time, the educational system is front and center in terms of how people organize the blame for their society. The teachers in particular take a heavy social burden. They are the ones who are responsible for the living and breathing and learning future. The blame sticks to them most of all since if there are problems with students or schools, it must be them.

I am always amazed at how we can see the true priorities of a country in how they treat this frontline of society. For example, in the Great Mongolian empire, certain people in certain occupations were exempted from taxes. The reason being because their job was considered to be very important to the Empire and so they should be treated better than others. Doctors and teachers were both included as such privileged classes.

Given that teachers are the one's most responsible for how the future will emerge and whether it will be with educated or ignorant actor, you might think that modern societies would elevate the status of their teachers and treat them like royalty. This is not the case. While Veteran's are elevated and treated as if they are intrinsically better than the rest of society because of their choice in profession, this does not extend to teachers. Instead they often see themselves attacked from all sides, for being too comfortable, too well paid, too lazy and so on.

This is part of the beauty of public school systems, at least from an ideological blame game perspective. Schools help relieve the everyday burden of parents and families or educating their children, but they also relieve the stress and blame for how children grow and sometimes don't develop. So many teachers have complained to me over the years about how most parents don't come to parent teacher conferences, and many that do become belligerent or upset when anything critical is mentioned about their child. They get very defensive about their kids. While you might say this is understandable given that this is their child and they are just being overprotective.

The problem with overprotectiveness is that it is usually yourself that you are protecting not your child. You act in overprotective ways to protect your child, but also to put your mind at ease, to make things easier on yourself. The overprotective ways that parents can act are sometimes a result of them not wanting to take responsibility for their child's failures or problems, and therefore they attempt to fix the blame on the teacher instead.

I am not saying that you cannot blame teachers for anything, but there is a difference between seeking to fix problems and looking to warehouse your frustration or anger over things in your society in the classrooms of a school. For so many people, schools are such an easy target. You can speak negatively about them, you can criticize them, you can hate them and the people who work in them, and few people will challenge or questions you.

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