Monday, March 24, 2014


Spring Break has ended for the Pokes, but I will not be going back to teaching today. Instead, I get to return to the county courthouse for another bout of jury duty. With luck, I may be able to be excused or dismissed (I think I have to pass voir dire first), but I cannot count on that happening, and I do not know how long it would take me to get through the process in any event. As such, I have canceled all of my appointments for today; we will see if I will have to put off my return to the physical classroom a bit longer. (Fortunately, one class can "meet" online, while the others can be fairly easily proctored for a few days. Still, there is some annoyance in having to juggle things around.)

The idea that any citizen in good standing can be called up for jury duty is an argument in favor of public education and education in the liberal arts and humanities. If any of us--and I *am* a US citizen in good standing (somehow)--can be called up to determine the guilt or innocence of a person, or the penalty a guilty person must pay for violating the social contract in which we are all enmeshed, then it is incumbent upon those who will make that call to ensure that those called are capable of carrying out such duties. The military does not send fighting folk into the field without at least basic training in what they will be required to do; it follows that the government which calls its citizens to serve should ensure that they are equipped to conduct that service.*

Because proof manifests in many ways, it becomes necessary for citizens who will be called upon to evaluate proof to be conversant in those many ways. Being able to negotiate raw numbers and applied, to understand basic physical and chemical processes, to understand the workings of history and social context, to have a grasp of the inner workings of the mind, and to know how words work together and against one another are all potentially needful in such circumstances. That they are justifies the diversity of curriculum at the secondary and undergraduate (now, sadly, effectively upper secondary) levels. Their necessity demonstrates why it is important the humanities remain part of formal instruction for all people, despite claims that students do not learn what is taught. (The claims are old and familiar. Do we blame carpenters if the boards we give them are rotten? Perhaps--but we are unjust to do so when they cannot choose the wood with which they work, and we are unjust to censure them for making a stool when they are told that the lack of a stool will mean a lack of employment.)

I am fortunate that I have had such training, although I am still not certain how well I can ascertain guilt or innocence, compliance or non-compliance with statute. And I know that I will be sitting among those who are both more certain than I and less well trained.

*I am aware that basic training is just that: basic. I am aware that it may not suffice to the tasks at hand. I am aware that the same is true for the various educational systems in the US: those who "complete" them may well not know what they are about.

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