Making Changes to the ‘Status Quo’

I waded into what can only be called a fight at a high school where I was teaching, looking for the one who really didn’t want to fight to walk that person away. I almost became a casualty myself, mainly because I didn’t know what I was doing, and that incident was more or less isolated. Not anymore, especially in high schools throughout our country where young people with myriad problems show up every day.

Many of us have seen the video of the police officer dragging the student out of the desk, across the floor and then handcuffing the student in front of several adults and the rest of the class. Not having been on site, watching the video was nonetheless chilling. How can an adult continue to try to pull a teenager out of a desk that’s skidding across the floor? It seems unusually short-sighted from someone sitting on the sidelines. Whatever precipitated the call for an officer, the situation escalated dramatically in a short period of time.

Without calling down blame on anyone in particular because I don’t know the particulars, what’s going on in our schools? In our own local area, young people were clamoring to return to class as a teachers’ strike in East St. Louis lasted for a month. Those young people needed to be in school. They needed every hour they could get with the teachers in classrooms, and every day of proper socialization on how to behave in the “public square.” In fact, right now their behavior seems far better than the adults who couldn’t find a way to settle the strike for weeks, keeping students from getting back to school.

It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and point the finger at one side or the other. When people come to an impasse, I think both should “rethink” their positions. The words “cooperate” and “compromise” provide opportunities, ways to bridge roadblocks; they should not be viewed as capitulations or failures to hold some imaginary line against the other side, whoever or whatever that other side might be.

Too often we seem ready to fight, to refuse to come to the table for discussions. Coming to a table or to a conversation does not mean we’ve caved in, given away our rights, failed in our mission. It does, however, mean that we want to solve a problem, to open ourselves to possibilities we may not have considered, to come to understand something new or different.

When my two children and I would come to an impasse I asked them — one or the other, or sometimes both — to “make me an offer.” This was before the time when “Let’s Make a Deal” was popular, but it sounds very similar, doesn’t it? If they wanted me to “budge” on my position, they had to make a proposal. In order to foster this kind of thinking, I had to listen and then we negotiated. Sometimes hearing them out was more important than accepting their offer. At least, that’s what I told them.

We must make changes, first in our own behaviors if we hope to see changes in others.