Making a Murderer and Why Students Have to Learn to Think

My daughter is in the middle of a frustrating mix of a runny nose that's trying to turn into a cold and her second tooth coming in. She doesn't want to be put down, she's grumpy, she didn't sleep well last night - basically we're currently experience all of the least fun aspects of parenting a 9-month old.

Ups and downs. Parenting is all ups and downs.

Anyways, she's finally fallen asleep for a nap after not sleeping well last night, giving me some big kid time to watch a few episodes of the Netflix documentary that seems to be blowing everyone's mind, Making a Murderer. The 30-second no spoiler synopsis is this:

A man on the fringe of his community gets targeted by the police, wrongfully convicted of a rape and then framed for a murder that he did not commit. The innocent involved are poorly educated and poor. They either cannot or don't know how to properly fight the forces that are trying to put them away. 


I'm not done yet, so I don't know how it ends. From what I can tell reading other people's accounts of the documentary, the main story is that of a wrongfully accused man who is targeted by a corrupt police system. That resonates in 2016. There are a lot of people out there, myself included when I'm in the right mood, who are really pessimistic about the role of police and the arc of our society.

[Update: The kid is feeling better and is on nap #2 of the day. Woot]

The point I'm interested in making with this post is less about the corrupt police, and more about how you can keep from getting screwed over in your life. Of course, I'm thinking more of my students than of you, dear reader, whoever you are. But if this message resonates with you or someone you love, then all the better.

So why not focus on the police? Mainly because shit happens. There have been, since the first community of humans and will be until our wonderful little rock of a planet is destroyed, shitty people who do shitty things. So when you encounter one of these types of people in your life, there are really two directions that your life can go from there.

1. You get away from that person as quickly as you possibly can.
2. You change nothing, and eventually you are swept up in something negative, at which point you've lost control.

My point I try to make to my students is that focusing on the problem is, in essence, the problem. As a teen or as an adult, if you whine and wonder why the world is unfair, then you are likely to not see much of a change in your life. Whatever terrible ill has befallen you may eventually be remedied. Yet magically, there will be something negative waiting in the shadows. The world is full of problems, and they will often find a way into your life.

For a high school student, the problems may seem less vital from the perspective of an adult. One of the keys to connecting with students is giving their issues legitimacy. A breakup at 15 really does feel like the end of the world. A 'C' grade that you have to take home to mom can seem as scary as the monster in the closet that most of us eventually realize isn't real. Problem after problem come up - they are all very real to the student.

As a teacher, I spent several years counseling that the problems were not actually that bad. Looking back, I see why this didn't lead to progress or good relationships with my kids. What I've done now is tried to focus on the solution. What can we/you/I do differently to make this problem get solved? What factors that play a role in the problem do you/we/I control? How can we change our own situation?

These are all questions that shift the focus from problem to solution. Which brings me back to Making a Murderer. Part of why the Avery family has experienced issues with police boils down to two main reasons. One - the family is poorly educated and can't express their wants and needs very well. Two - the family is terrible at minimizing conflict.

For the Avery family, small issues grew into large issues. Arguments turned into fights turned into arrests turned into apparent targeting. It all snowballed, and it all seems to me could have, at some point earlier on, been avoided or reduced.

I started thinking about those two things and how they really related to just about any problem. And then of course I started thinking about my students and how the idea relates to them. There will always be corrupt cops. There will always be terrible teachers. There will always be frustrating parents. There will always be bosses who are, well, bossy.

There will always be frustrations and things that go wrong. If parenting for 9 months has taught me anything, it is this very lesson. An unimaginable number of things go both terrible and great in the span of an hour of being a parent. It can be mind-numbing.

How do I talk to students about this? I guess that's a problem that needs a solution.

I'll get on that.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:
My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have a newborn daughter and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet. Seriously. It's a proven fact.

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