For neither in war nor yet at law ought any man to use every way of escaping death. For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. — Socrates to the Athenian Senate, from Plato’s Apology
In my 20-year teaching career, I tried to inspire students to live lives of caring, integrity, passion, and civic involvement. I tried to increase their awareness of their place in the community, country and world – to broaden their literary and ideological horizons. The year I left teaching to attend UNC Law, they gave me the greatest honor I have ever known by voting me “Most Inspirational Teacher.”
I miss my classroom every day; I was a called teacher and will never, I fear, do anything more important. My favorite thing – my greatest encouragement – is that I continue to hear from students, especially about how my class has had a positive impact on their lives and how they are paying it forward. (Keep those cards and letters – OK, mostly Facebook posts and emails – coming, my beloved formers!)
Yet America fails to adequately compensate and honor teachers. As a society we expect and often require students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, a recitation in which they must declare that our country has “liberty and justice for all.” In my class, I never required students to say the pledge, but I required they stand respectfully, and I always said it. But at the end, I ad-libbed: “with liberty and justice for all, if we keep working at it.”
How can our society aspire to these ideals without a commitment to provide access to quality education for all of our children? Why, if a school is “not good enough” for “our child” should it have to be good enough for any child? (And don’t get me started on racial equity; the educational and legal outcomes speak very clearly to the lack of justice for our children of color.)
For me, the practice of teaching and the practice of law should be about the work of moving our society closer to the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” This work demands a commitment to equitable educational access that transcends current market-based reform rhetoric and practice.
The heart of the matter is whether we, as a nation, have the political will to invest in educational opportunity for all. Related matters include access to legal representation/protection and a to truly democratic political process. Most of the writing here will poke at, prod at, and postulate about these matters.
This blog is about navigating the work of aspiring to and defending our highest ideals. And about trying very hard to “outrun unrighteousness.”
To die unbroken . . . even if I die broke.
Thanks for reading.