Justice in the United States

Four articles related to justice in the United States give me pause for thought, work, and education. I prefer the term “work” to the word “fight” for a cause. The first two are in the Christian Century, March 16, 2016, issue. Seven writers assess the Black Lives Matter movement on pages 24 through 31. All the writers are fairly young. I would have liked to hear from some people in my age group and imagine that their tone would be somewhat moderated.

The second is by David Caudill titled “The science of injustice,” a book review of Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado. Caudill summarizes Benforado’s recommendations for reform on page 37. He advocates more security cameras, police training on personal bias, and better forensic science. He highlights solutions such as getting rid of blame and retribution and replacing it with rehabilitiation and resocialization using Norway as the example.

The additional articles are from The New York Review, March 24, 2016, issue. “My Koran Problem” by Garry Wills, provides a systematic view of the contents of the Koran. Acknowledging that there are disturbing passages of “shocking” militarism as as there are also in the Old Testament, he points out that the term infidel does not include the people of the book, Jews and Christians, that the prophets are the same and many stories of the Old Testament and the Koran are similar. Jesus and his mother Mary hold special places in the Koran. Modesty for both men and women is highly prized. “In the Koran, he (Muhammad) is called the ‘seal of the prophets,’ not because he canceled all other messages but because he confirmed them: “In matters of faith, He (Allah) has laid down for you (people) the same commandment that He gave Noah, which We have revealed to you (Muhammad) and which We enjoined on Abraham and Moses and Jesus: ‘Uphold the faith and do not divide into factions.'” To understand “a quarter of the world’s inhabitants” we need to know something of their faith.

“Solving the Mystery of the Schools” by Diane Ravitch summarizes recent history of American public education and two books. She details the objections to Common Core and No Child Left Behind and describes the changes in the new law which gives more discretion to the states. The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff describes the efforts of Mayor Booker of Newark and Governor Christie of New Jersey to make Newark a model of education reform using gifts from well known philanthropists and increasing the number of charter schools of which not all are successful though spending more than public schools. One of the observations by Russakoff was an exercise used by an English teacher who asked the students to write whatever came to mind about the word “Hope.” Among the responses were a “hope to get home safe”…”My mother has hope that I won’t fall victim to the streets. I hope that hope finds me.”…”We hope we’re not the next target to get sprayed”…”I hope to make it to an older age than I am.”…”Hope–that’s one thing I don’t have.”

Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph by Kristina Rizga. She had immersed herself in a multicultural San Francisco school with 75% of students who were poor and 40% were learning English from 40 different countries and was “failing” by standardized test scores, yet 84% of its graduates were accepted to college and other indicators were positive. She writes: Some of the most important things that matter in a quality education–critical thinking, intrinsic motivation, resilience, self-management, resourcefulness, and relationship skills–exist in the realms that can’t be easily measured by statistical measure and computer algorithms, but they can be detected by teachers using human judgment.” Ravitch remarks that “The most valuable education emerges from live interactions between teachers and students, not from the algorithms built into computers to deliver scripted lessons…Genuine improvement happens when students, teachers, principals, parents, and the local community collaborate for the benefit of the children. But a further lesson matters even more: improving education is not sufficient to ‘save’ all children from lives of poverty and violence. As a society, we should be ashamed that so many children are immersed in poverty and violence every day of their lives.”

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