Broken Systems

This morning I saw a headline that said that some 400 police officers were on site in Uvalde before an off-duty non-police-officer border guard showed up and killed the shooter.

My first instinct was to sarcastically comment “That’s a lot of bad apples”, but I didn’t. Instead, my brain decided to compare the standard police message to what has become the standard message of the Democratic Party. It’s a defensive message; it’s not “we’re great and doing an awesome job and the world is better because of us”, it’s “if you get rid of us, then what?”

I went off and did other stuff, and in the middle of brushing my teeth I was thinking about education. Why do we send kids to school? Ostensibly, because they need an education. But we know that public education in this country is highly problematic in ways that we continue to fail to adequately address.

Imagine I was a parent who served my child nothing but candy. Someone challenges me: “Why are you feeding your child candy?” My reply: “We all have to eat.”

Yes, but that’s not the question.

We all need education. But that, in itself, is not a proper defense of public education. I’m not saying it’s as bad as feeding a child nothing but candy, but it’s not a properly balanced diet, either.

Humans do need some sort of arbiter and force that can step in when some of us are doing bad things to each other. But that, in itself, is not a proper defense of the current state of policing.

One way in which malfunctioning systems self-perpetuate is by convincing people that the absence of that system would be worse. Sure, public education isn’t perfect, but can you imagine if we didn’t have any? Sure, the Democratic Party isn’t perfect, but what if the GOP was completely in charge? Sure, the police aren’t perfect, but what kind of anarchy would we have if we didn’t have the police?

This position protects the broken system for having to do any real self-reflection. The system doesn’t need to improve because it has created a monopoly. Even when there are alternatives–charter school, the Republican Party, private security–those are even more problematic, further protecting the system.

One argument for charter schools is that they would create healthy competition. Public schools would have to improve in order to compete. On one important level, it seems to have had the opposite effect: The perpetual mediocre-or-worse state of most charter schools has shielded public school from improving. Indeed, the concept of “charter school” has gotten so tarnished that many charter schools have started calling themselves “public schools” just to distance themselves from the concept.

One part of the solution is to simply stop letting “If you think we’re bad, imagine if we weren’t here!” be a proper defense of broken systems. Some systems are redeemable but have systemic issues that need to be drastically altered. Some systems are so corrupted that they need to be torn down and replaced.

In other words: Yes, let’s do what they ask. Let’s imagine if they weren’t here. If we could form a system for adjudicating wrongs, what would it be like? If we could form a system for offering education properly, what would it be like? Excellent questions, that we can’t answer as long as broken systems are deliberately shielding themselves from repair.

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