Friday, January 18, 2013

Music T Friday: Civic Duty

Public Enemy is probably the only hip hop group I would ever be interested to see in concert. (I've seen a couple other groups out of circumstance rather than choice and as novel an experience as it was, I just don't think I "get" them) Back in 2010, I was lucky enough to win tickets to P.E. at the Commodore Ballroom just a week after my birthday.  It was a phenomenal show with an electric energy in the crowd. They performed for over two hours and Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and Keith Shocklee (performing in place of DJ Lord) schooled Vancouver old-school and in-style in politics, culture and societal injustices in an incredibly entertaining set of music. Afterwards, they were wonderful about coming out a connecting with their fans. Even the really really drunk Asian guys who got all gangsta-babbly fan-boy when given the chance to shake Chuck D's hand. :) I hung out and got pictures when the opportunity arose. I bought a t-shirt. It was a good night.

Today marks my (roundabout) 75th blog post (the numbers are a little funny because I still have two posts from before Xmas break that I have yet to publish. I continue to enjoy the exercise of writing almost daily but Life likes to throw curve-balls.

As of yesterday, I am a serving jury member in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. I received my summons back in December. Apparently, about 3000 summons were sent out for jury selection for this particular trial. Of those 3000 summons, I estimate about 300 showed up on the day of jury selection, Wednesday last week. Of the 300 who showed up, only about 100 were called up by random number selection before 14 jury members and 2 alternates were sworn in. This is going to be a long trial and if Counsel's estimate is accurate, court will sit for the rest of the school year, Monday - Thursday. This means that my job has been posted for a long-term substitute. Which means that my blog mandate to write every day that I teach will be cut by more than 80% for the rest of the year.

As a unionized public school teacher, the collective agreement covers my jury duty and I do not suffer any financial repercussions for serving. I am physically able, geographically local to, and intellectually interested in the workings of our legal system. As a teacher who believes that educating our students in good citizenship is of utmost importance, I would feel like a total hypocrite if I had asked to be excused just because I didn't want to leave my students mid-year. It honestly never occurred to me to ask to be excused from serving so it was a disappointing and startling realization that I appear to be in the minority. Nearly every person I told about the jury summons offered me a "way out", an excuse to not serve, or asked how I was going to get out of it. I finally took to asking them point-blank,"WHY would I try to be excused?" No one really gives me an answer after that.

Yes, it's a damned inconvenience. And I don't like leaving my students or my classroom mid-year, especially with so many of them facing provincial exams for the first time this year. Furthermore, I've had a good rapport with the parents this year so disappearing mid-year is extremely awkward. That being said, I live in a country that doesn't require military service of me, that allows me about as much freedom as anywhere in the world, that doesn't even tax me all that much when compared to most European countries. All my country asks of me is to be an educated voter and to serve jury duty. So I bridle at the suggestion that I would shirk that call.
As our system exists right now, no teacher is irreplaceable. It is highly conceited, narrow-minded, and unrealistic to think otherwise.  Yes, we are individual and we all bring unique qualities to the job but a functioning education system is meant to be resilient. That means students, co-workers, administration and substitutes adjust to keep the system running. As a profession, teaching requires us to trust in our colleagues and to recognize that there are many effective ways to teach, not just how we do it.

I don't like to think of myself as a righteous individual. There's a lot of baggage and self-importance that goes with that moniker. But I feel indignant and morally (civic-ly?) outraged at the expectation that everyone should TRY to get out of serving jury duty. I understand that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for asking to be excused from jury duty. There's a huge financial hardship if your job does not pay you while you serve. It can be physically painful for you to sit still day after day. You may be the sole caregiver for a young child, elderly individual or dependent family member. There are a myriad of other, completely valid reasons for being excused. BUT I do not feel that being a teacher is one of them. In fact, I believe that being a teacher means that you are even more obligated to serve. How can you teach your students the importance of community, citizenship and the legal system if you seek to escape your own responsibility as a member of society? As much as teaching is my vocation, I will never state that I am a teacher first and a citizen second. Doing that, in my mind, would make me less of a teacher.

Ultimately, like so many things, it comes down to personal choice and personal beliefs. A colleague who seeks to be excused on the basis that their students and colleagues would suffer for their absence has a much higher estimation of their importance than do I. A colleague who seeks excusing because they simply do not want to serve has a different understanding of citizenship and education than do I. What they choose for themselves is not what I choose for myself but I do resent the suggestion that I care any less for my students or am any less professional because I choose to serve my civic duty.

For those of you who read regularly, I hope to be able to post something at least weekly. And I'll get those December ones up too. Interestingly enough, I took a quick count at New Years and figured that I would've had almost exactly enough t-shirts to finish out the year. Maybe I'll have to continue through the summer now. :)