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As a teacher listening to calls to defund the police, my first reaction is to shrug and revel that someone else is feeling the misery of being expendable at budget time. Why should I suffer alone? That is a short-sighted view of the movement to defund the police. It’s not a movement to harm police. It is a movement to build and grow our communities. In fact, it’s a mindset that we could borrow in education too.
Police officers and teachers are similar in that both are asked to do a lot of work that exists outside their specialties or training. Teachers are tasked with being crisis interventionists, hall monitors, counselors, and on. Meanwhile, their training is primarily in pedagogy and content. Similarly, police officers are asked to manage and help the homeless, care for the sick and delusional, and mentor the young and impressionable; all in the name of public safety, but all requiring skills that aren’t their specialty. We tell ourselves that police are out catching bad guys, but the reality is we task them with healing a community. For both teachers and police officers, it’s too much.
While teachers and police deal with many of the same people and families, they are perceived by the public in different ways. In Gallup polls, 71% of parents in 2018 rated their child’s teacher as good, or better, while in 2017 only 57% of the public rated their confidence in police officers at “quite a lot,” up from 2016’s 52%. These statistics aren’t impressive. It’s evidence that police and teachers aren’t positioned to do the jobs we want them to do.
The defund the police movement offers a road map for system-based improvements beyond policing. It’s not about slashing police budgets and telling people to fend for themselves. It’s about reallocating dollars and resources to serve communities better.
In education, the problem is all of the history and English teachers implementing curricula devoid of appropriate cultural contexts, or in some cases curricula that are downright ignorant on the topic of marginalized people, their voices, and their struggles throughout history. In both policing and education, the problem is all the teachers and cops chasing data ahead of caring for people: cops making a certain number of arrests to prove they are fighting crime and teachers quantifying each student in a number related to standardized test performance.We can bemoan the people who do the jobs, but we’d be better served to change the rules that dictate how teachers and police act: creating more inclusive curricula, reducing the responsibilities of individual teachers and police. Click To Tweet
Today, for whatever reason, when the police need more armor, or bigger guns, or tear gas, we make that a reality. We get mad when the police cause harm, but we are reluctant to remove the tools and mindsets that cause harm. And, when schools need money for testing, or computers, or test prep materials, we find the time and money. But, when we want to talk about adding people and time for people, we punt. In short, we refuse to change the system.And, when schools need money for testing, or computers, or test prep materials, we find the time and money. Click To Tweet
We want more humanity in our systems, but when it comes time to make actual investments in creating humane systems, we balk. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. It’s difficult to quantify. And, the way we look at system improvements currently all these are true because we tend to view system improvements as additional responsibilities for police and teachers.
- We want safer schools, so let’s give teachers guns.
- We want homeless folks off the streets, so we tell cops to round them up.
- We want to improve discipline, so we task teachers to be behavior interventionists and crisis managers.
- We want to reduce drug use and abuse, so cops are tasked with handling those suffering from addiction.
Nothing comes off the table for teachers or police. All of these are noble causes, but our teachers and cops aren’t the best suited to provide those services. So, when we hear defund the police, it’s about getting the right personnel to respond to the needs of our community. A homeless person loitering outside a business would be better served if an official from the Housing Department responded as opposed to a police officer. A student toppling desks and chairs while in crisis needs a counselor more than they need a teacher.We have to be careful when talking about defunding the police. If people are left to believe that defunding the police means fewer, or no, people responding to calls of addicts overdosing or the sick going into crisis, it’s a doomed movement. Click To Tweet
So, we have to be careful when talking about defunding the police. If people are left to believe that defunding the police means fewer, or no, people responding to calls of addicts overdosing or the sick going into crisis, it’s a doomed movement. But, if people can understand that it is a cry to reprioritize and allow public servants to be positioned to provide the services they specialize in, it’s a win for everyone.