Injustice Happens When We Refuse to See Others' Basic Humanity

Language from the door hanger left on my porch the day of the state department phone call.
Language from the door hanger left on my porch the day of the state department phone call.

At the end of this past school year, my family faced a minor injustice. After documenting my kindergartner’s absences the wrong way, I received an uncomfortable call from the state department informing me that unless I cleared up the excessive absences my child had accrued over the past academic year, either “the mother” (myself) or the child would be sent to youth court, where one or both of us could face a fine and/or potential jail time.

This came as a shock to me because up until this point, we had received no message from my child’s teacher, the school, the district, or the state department that we were nearing violation of any attendance policies, though the hanger left on my front door that same day said we were supposed to have received multiple notices. I also want to add that my husband was never implicated in the rhetoric surrounding consequences for my child’s absences. On the phone call from the state department, the caseworker explicitly stated that the mother or the child (in this case, a five year old) would have to report to youth court. This slight is just one of many injustices that mothers face everyday, but that’s another story for another time.

This minor injustice was cleared up easily. After notifying a number of individuals at the school and district level, the absences were documented appropriately, I was issued an apology for the tone used in the incident, and I was asked by the district to brainstorm ways to keep this from happening again. All of this I appreciated, and I still have a high regard for our public schools and the hard work that teachers and administrators put into their jobs each day to ensure that our children get a fair and equitable education. This is not an attack on the schools, places I know from firsthand experience are stretched beyond their limits due to unending budget cuts and crushing, anti-education policies in this toxic “age of accountability.”

The reason I share this injustice is that I can easily see that because of the racial, social, class, and educational privileges I hold, I was treated better than other parents might have been in this same situation. When I balked the alarmist rhetoric I’d received, on multiple occasions from people at all levels of this situation, I heard this excuse: “Well, it’s clear that you and your husband care, but some parents need to be spoken to this way. You have to understand that some parents could care less about their child’s education.”

I have a hard time believing that this is accurate.

What I’ve learned in my experience as an educator, as a parent, as a woman in society, is that the vast majority of parents care a great deal about their children and their children’s education. I’ve also learned that when I have an issue to raise with someone, I can generally speak with them openly and honestly if I approach them with basic humanity.

The assumptions that the caller from the state department made about me as a mother were incorrect, though she wasn’t interested in that when she called. It wasn’t until I was able to convince her that I was a loving and devoted parent, who had simply been documenting my child’s absences incorrectly, that she finally backed off from her disapproving and intimidating tone. I felt that this phone call and the experience as a whole could’ve been a lot more positive if she had approached the conversation thinking the best of me as a parent as opposed to approaching the conversation with the worst in mind.

I wondered, though…how many parents have been on the receiving end of this call and have felt this threatening tone and acted one of two ways? Maybe they got angry and fought back? I certainly felt insulted and could empathize easily with this reaction. Maybe they felt incredibly intimidated and horrified…possibly even scared that they could lose custody of their children over something like this. I understood that ultimately this was a misunderstanding, and that I had the means to hire a lawyer if it ever came to that, but what about parents who know little about these situations or have little means to defend themselves. I can only imagine their thoughts.

We find ourselves in an age where the rhetoric used by those in power can be so inflammatory, so ignorant of the basic humanity of others, that we often lack the ability to solve problems or find common ground. We refuse to hear each other out before we act. We talk instead of listening. We assume the worst. We make assumptions about others that simply aren’t the case. We forget that we’re all human.

Injustices can be major or they can be minor. But they are injustices nonetheless. And we have to be able to talk about them, without anger or intimidation or fear of retribution, or the injustices just fester. And festering wounds can’t heal.

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