Reclamation: Part 1

Teaching for Absolution

At the core of the dynamic between empathy and compassion, and law and order, is the perception of crime and the individuals which committed the crimes. Because of tradition, history, and the advent of social media as an ideological echo chamber, we find ourselves separating and classifying, reducing one another down to numbers, as well as distorting representation. Constantly, we construct “we” and “them” narratives, portraying society as victims requiring reparation, and those who offend as external to society. We have callously indoctrinated ourselves into a notion of revenge and removed most forms of forgiveness from our societal curriculum, choking absolution for those who need it most. In order to reclaim society from its intentionally destructive structure, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness must be reintroduced into institutions the nation-over.

Of the many places of which this should be implemented, perhaps the most important is, without question, schools. While the family and immediate community serve in a more influential capacity, individuals of either are under no obligation to teach beyond their personal convictions. Because American youth will spend the majority of their time in schools, they will be undoubtedly influenced by what they experience. Teachers, however, not only serve in a capacity to teach perspective and understanding, they have a moral and societal obligation to establish a framework that will allow students to become responsible, informed global citizens – able to think critically and meaningfully about the world around them. While this concept exists at a surface-level within many social studies and English classrooms, it is superficial and is generally not applied beyond test-taking skills. This is not meaningful, authentic learning.

As a result of limiting the human factor within schools and curriculum, we have been taught to harden our hearts at a young age, further perpetuating myths and dangers of meritocracy and self-centered progression. We construct “we” and “them” narratives to justify behavior and rationalize mistreatment, turning our backs on communities that need the most help and support. By introducing compassion, social justice, and community works into our school curricula, we can become more accepting and successful.

I recently taught a unit on the Islamic Empires to high school freshman where I tested the practicality of this concept. While I had to work hard to find a balance with the important historical content which needed to be taught, I was regularly able to include activities and readings which emphasized culture and society, with ample opportunities to relate them to present-day, such as the rise of Islamophobia and tolerance in the West. By the end, my students, while young, had demonstrated clear and authentic growth in understanding and interest of Islamic culture. This was my first teaching experience and it was a relatively short unit, however, the students made large, measurable progress. If I, an inexperienced student-aide, can help students grow this successfully, imagine a nation-wide shift towards this approach to teaching. By taking clear societal issues such as criminal justice, teachers can foster a generation which dismantles “we” and “them,” ending a system which relegates convicts – human beings – to the image of a cancer to the world, allowing for loving and helpful rehabilitation into society. Let us stop teaching our youth that these men and women are inconsequential to life and, instead, teach them to look at what they are: men and women. Once we shift our lens on this issue, we can finally begin to reclaim society from its contempt for its people.

“Reclamation” is a multi-part series which examines methods and concepts to illustrate and emphasize the forgotten and ignored perspectives of the individuals in the correctional system, as well examine methods of, positive and meaningful change

Written by Luke Herman, Contributor for Forgive Everyone Co.

Every purchase of Forgive Everyone Co apparel funds our ability to continue to produce content working to humanize the experience of those who have experienced incarceration. Additionally we donate a portion of every sale to non-profits working to provide housing, employment, and mentorship to returning citizens post-incarceration. #ForgiveEveryone