Walking back from the park the other day, I came upon a manifesto of sorts, typed in single space and nailed to a telephone pole. The message declared that no one should remain silent while another was persecuted for the color of his skin or his impoverished condition. Evil, the words proclaimed, must never be allowed to feel comfortable.
Unsigned, the credo was left to weather in the elements until time blurred its message. Still, that fragile affirmation stayed with me as I walked away. That the person who’d left it was young, I had no doubt, not only because of the passion in those words, but also because he or she felt certain that right could easily be distinguished from wrong. I didn’t agree.
As a young teacher, I’d experienced a similar bout of righteousness. One of my students had been expelled because of the misconduct of his friends. His loss was personal to me, for I’d worked hard on this young man, tracking him down when he missed a class and insisting he complete his assignments. Call it vanity, but I believed I was making a difference in his life.
After reaching the principal’s office, I ranted for several minutes about racial discrimination, the boy being African American, while the principal remained seated in his chair, his hands folded across his chest as if to serve as a shield against my anger. He didn’t interrupt but listened with what seemed a sympathetic expression. Finally, when I’d exhausted my emotion, he responded. My pupil belonged to a gang,” he said. That morning, the members had entered the school with guns. How would I feel if violence had broken out and a young person had been killed, he wondered. I had no answer and felt deflated, my good being tempered by a greater one.
The scene I describe took place decades ago, long before Columbine, Springfield, Houston, Roswell…. The list seems endless. Looking back on those innocent days, my principal appears prescient and I honor his decision. Yet, I continue to feel the boy was wronged and that, in being expelled, he suffered an injustice. Nonetheless, a school filled with injured or dead students was a risk no sane person would take. So what was right or wrong in that instance? To this day, I remain haunted by the question.
(Originally posted 5/29/14)
(Courtesy of lynnsideedition.wordpress.com)