Corrections, challenges and helping youth search for truth

The following column originally appeared in APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers including the Morrison County Record, in February, 2022

Corrections, challenges and helping youth search for truth

  • By Joe Nathan

The following column originally appeared in APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers including the Morrison County Record, in February, 2022

With help of several readers, this week’s column discusses some of my mistakes, and what families and educators might do to help youngsters search for “the truth.”

Let’s start with a recent column about the value of language immersion programs. I mistakenly included Somali while listing Minnesota public schools’ language immersion programs. Tara Fortune, whose research I cited, wrote to say she wasn’t aware of a Minnesota Somali immersion school.

I checked with several sources including the Minnesota Department of Education and four schools I thought were teaching students English and Somali via immersion. Ashleigh Norris, MDE communications director, responded, “We’re not aware of any Somali Immersion programs in K-12 public schools in Minnesota.”

Two school leaders responded, including one whose school formerly taught Somali immersion, but no longer.

My apologies for this mistake. Minnesota’s language immersion schools are listed here.

Another column encouraging young women to consider a career in policing drew vehement disagreement with my recommendation.

One reader, who described himself as having 16-plus years of experience as a police officer at “municipal, county and federal levels,” cited increasing injuries to police officers on routine calls. He concluded, “until public opinion starts to swing the other way on supporting our law enforcement and not condemning them, I cannot, and would not, recommend to anyone that they even think about, much less consider, a career in law enforcement.”

Another reader also disagreed with me, for different reasons. He criticized me for failing to “address the fundamental violence inherent in policing other than to dismiss it out of hand.” This reader described our world as “fundamentally unjust.” He insisted this cannot be fixed by changing who does the policing.

Both critics offered additional, thoughtful reasons for disagreeing with the column’s recommendation. So, what’s the “truth”?

As I think about these issues, and how to talk with young people, I’ve reached some tentative conclusions.

First, it’s easier to determine the “facts” in some areas and issues, than in others. The facts are that several language immersion programs, once you agree on the definition, are pretty straightforward.

Second, the truth isn’t so precise on something like whether to encourage young people to consider becoming police officers.

I agree, in part, with both readers’ criticisms, cited above. Yes, being a police officer can be dangerous. A national study based on recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that a police officer is almost four times more likely to suffer a fatality on the job than the national average (12 fatalities/100,000 police officers compared to 3.4 fatalities/100,000 employees in the average job). However, this study found that using the fatalities/100,000 employees measure, 24 other jobs were more dangerous. This included logging workers, aircraft pilots, roofers, construction workers, garbage collectors and farmers. The study is found here.

I agree that there are many unjust features in society (that’s another column). And I agree that more women becoming police officers won’t solve this.

However, without denying the readers’ concerns described above, I still trust research cited in the column about the value of more female police officers. Experience and research show they would overall, produce more peaceful resolution of local problems.

There’s an Indian fable about six blind people who describe an elephant. Some describe its leg, tusk, tail, ears or stomach. None fully describe the elephant.

More details on this here.

The Indian fable seems to cover many issues in our society. Sometimes we see some, but not all of “the truth.”

Sometimes, as in the number of language immersion schools in Minnesota, it’s possible to be certain of what’s accurate. Sometimes “the truth” is more nuanced and complex. Reasonable people will disagree. That’s why I encourage listening to and learning from others with very different experiences. Those tentative truths may be useful for youngsters. As always, reader reaction is welcome.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at Joe@centerforschool change.org.