Monday, June 9, 2008

The murderers I have taught with

Last week the news was full of a massive raid for pedophiles. Four teachers were involved (so far there have been more than 80 arrests nation-wide). Every time something like that happens (thank heaven, not very often) a wave of dismay, disgust and disbelief washes through my workplace. It doesn't matter what school I'm in, the emotions and questions are the same. How could anyone think for a minute that treating children like that coud be right? How could we (as in someone close to the people) not realise and stop it earlier? Those poor children.

We don't dwell on the topic long. It's too upsetting. Just the thought of what the children have gone through and still have to go through in their lives because of it squeezes the heart and brings tears. We move onto other macabre topics that can have a humourous (bizarre humour, that is) twist when viewed from the distance of years. Last week, Nola, a lady I work with, came out with a classic phrase: "The murderers I have taught with".

The woman should have a blog with that title. She has enough stories to keep it going at least twelve months if she blogs a couple of times a week. Last week we heard of a teacher who apparently killed his wife, chopped her into pieces and put her in a garbage bag in the boot (trunk) of his car. At the weekend he took members of his family on a bushwalk in a forest and while they went ahead, he dumped the body. Bizarre. (My apologies, Nola, if I have any of the facts wrong.)

It's amazing what people don't notice about others around them. Even if things are noticed, they're often dismissed. No one wants to intrude. No one wants to get involved. Everyone wants to believe there's some reasonable and logical explanation. No one wants to believe that ordinary looking people do terrible things. It would mean we'd have to suspect everyone. We'd have to admit our life isn't as safe as we want it to be.

On one radio show, I listened to the announcer suggest an interview during the application process for a blue card (child safety certificate) would identify dangerous people. Everyone in Australia who works with children has to have a 'blue card'. It's basically a criminal check to make sure no convicted pedophiles get jobs close to children. I'm still wondering how an interview would help. People are innocent until proven guilty. If they don't have a conviction we can't accuse without reasonable evidence. We can't conduct an interview and say "You look odd; I think you're a pedophile". It's not as if they have tattoos on their foreheads proclaiming it so.

I feel very strongly about children being treated well, but I also feel strongly about making sure we don't set up a system of discrimination or harassment in our efforts to protect them. The system might need a review and we all know the law is years behind the technology, but everyone's rights have to be protected, not only childrens'.

Knee-jerk reactions have to be avoided. Everyone (ie most people) is horrified and upset that such a thing can go on under our very noses but we have to make sure our reaction is responsible, reasonable and rational. Witch hunts don't work. All they do is set up situations so that society becomes a scary place. People become afraid to express themselves in case it's mis-interpreted. That's not what our democratic lifestyle is about.


Jim Harris said...

I work at a college of education, and years ago they started doing background checks on student teachers and teachers. The local news kept locating various felons getting jobs in the city schools and this caused such an uproar that you now have to meet all kinds of background checks to teach. It's too bad they don't do criminal background checks on the students. I don't know about your school system, but here your blog could have been titled, "The murderers I have thaught."

glediar said...

I know that side of it too, Jim. Thankfully we're pretty tame here compared to America (judging by the news anyway).

Teachers have a fairly warped sense of humour and we often come back to class and suggest particular students need to be watched. I won't say what we really say here because we're not supposed to be nasty and it's all done in fun (or concern or frustration).

I knew a teacher a little while ago who actually kept a list of students they thought would bear watching. About 80% of them ended up in jail for something or another within 10 years of leaving school so I think he was pretty much on the mark.

We have to report suspicious behaviours that we think might mean a student is at risk like that but often there's nothing specific to go on. It's just a process of getting to know the kid and having a gut feeling. There's nothing we can pin-point or highlight as potentially dangerous. We generally still mention it to the school counsellor but without anything to go on, they often can't do much more than chat with the kid.

It's really frustrating because there's always a chance that if they're helped earlier they might be able to make better choices. Often once behaviours have begun to manifest, it's too late to be much help.

But back to your 'Murderers I have taught' - wouldn't that be a good title for an anthology based around that theme? There'd be enough material out there for sure.

I've always wondered how someone with no background in illegal activities, or the life these kids live, could understand a student who lives the life. Without even a basic level of understanding it would be very difficult to reach them and achieve any kind of success in teaching them. They wouldn't think anything you say to them would be relevant - you don't know anything about them or the way they live.

It's possible to feel empathy and compassion but does that give you a real understanding?

Jim Harris said...

If you want to get an idea of what Memphis is like, read this:

Note the sad story about how gang members recruit good kids to be fronts for their activities to divert the attention of cops.

No one has ever figured out how to stop gangs. It goes way back. This weekend we saw the musical West Side Story which was about 1950s gangs, but it was a remake of Romeo and Juliet, which referred to much older gang fighting.

Did you see the movie Freedom Writers? Sometimes a single person can make a difference to a few kids, but it seems like nothing we've done for decades can actually change things. That's why The Atlantic article is so depressing.

glediar said...

Wow, that's scary, but somehow doesn't surprise me. The whole project smacks of knee-jerk reaction. They didn't plan it or think about consequences like they did with the first 1970s project. They didn't get the people being moved on board - just moved them. They still had no control over their lives. Who would want that?

It's really sad that the people trying to make a change in their lives can't because of things happening in their neighbourhood. ("The element" going with them.)

We have a few suburbs like that - where it's really difficult for people to move beyond where they've come from. They have higher crime rates and lower education levels. It's a hard life and totally destructive to self-esteem.

We have really strict gun laws here. Very few people can actually get a licence for a gun. You certainly don't hear gunshots around the neighbourhood. At worst we'll hear a fire engine or ambulance go past a few blocks away - maybe one or twice a week. Usually they're connected to car accidents, not violent incidents.

I know we have violent elements. We have a drug problem too, and a lot (for us) of homeless people. But you don't see any of that in most of the suburbs and only some nights and in some sections of the city centre.

I am so glad I live where I do. I don't deal with violence or anger well and really appreciate the quiet of my life.