Sunday, September 20, 2009
The best question a teacher can ask a student is "Who owns this problem?" Those who are incompletely socialized or immature are constantly projecting their failings onto external authorities. The adolescent will stand in front of you, or slouch in a chair, and say "I don't have my homework (or "I am failing" etc.) What are you going to do about it?" The answer is "Fail you. It is your problem. You fix it." If a student engages in misconduct, say cheating or vandalism, and another covers up then you let them know that the accessory has bought a problem. At some point group benefits (such as a trip, party or extracurricular activity) are withdrawn. Actions have consequences.
Is collective punishment "unfair?" Maybe so but it works as one tool among many. The risks are twofold.
1) Delinquents will try to provoke a reduction in the groups standard of living in order to isolate it from the external authority. This is akin to an Alynskite tactic except that it is directed at the minority community in parallel to the host oppressor.
2) Genuinely abusive agents will take advantage of the vulnerability of the isolated minority community for personal gain under the cover of the host's authority. An example of that was people who seized the assets of interned Japanese in America during WW-II, the "Bad Day at Black Rock."
Do members of minority groups have any responsibility to confront misconduct arising from members of their community? How did Jews respond to the predations of Meyer Lansky and Bernard Madoff? They isolated them denounced them and publicly rejected them in an overt effort to reassure the host majority that they were loyal to greater community. How did Japanese Americans respond to the perceived threat from within their community after the attack on Pearl Harbor? Despite the pain and humiliation caused by the internments they volunteereden masse for service with the highly decorated units such as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. How did Italian Americans react to Joe Colombo's efforts to wrap them in the cloak of victimology and isolate them as a cover for la cosa nostra? Despite some initial uncertainty, Frank Sinatra headlined a concert for Colombo's Italian American Anti-Defamation League, the legacy of gang culture was largely ridiculed and rejected by Americans of Italian ancestry. More members of that community want to identify with Rudy Giuliani than John Gotti.
Ultimately it is the responsibility of each person to police their own conduct and then their family's. If people choose to isolate themselves and give cover to those who threaten the larger society then they will engender mistrust. As John Donne said, "No man is an island." Any threat to the greater community that we are aware of is our responsibility to confront if possible. If that can not be done due to physical threats then it is still, indeed it is then all the more, a responsibility to warn and cooperate with law enforcement.