By Drew Park
“I’m not a bad person, mister. I don’t know what happened… what I was thinking. It’s like I went insane or something. I guess I just wanted what everyone else had.” I heard these words this morning, before school, around 7:30 am. In front of me was a girl on the verge of tears, an A student in my class, a person who like every one of us, made a really dumb mistake.
This past Friday, before class was let out, I found out that two students had had their iPods stolen. After calling the school police, holding the students in for an extra twenty minutes, and trying in vain to find out if anyone knew anything (“I’m not a snitch, mister” was pretty much what everyone said), I let the class out, disheartened and feeling helpless. I remember writing down in my prayer journal on Friday, “Request #21: the return of two iPods 10/23/09.”
Tired of forgetting God’s faithfulness to my prayer requests, I’ve started listing my requests, with a date I started praying about it, and a date when it was answered. And yet I was doubtful; probably 90% of my students have gotten their iPod or cell phone jacked at some point, and most of them do not have happy endings. However, when I am faithless, He is faithful.
This morning, as I was preparing for first period, the girl walked in and confessed. She said that this whole weekend she felt this crazy weight of guilt. It reminded me of Psalm 32:4, “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” As I was thinking of this, and as she left with that weight off her shoulders, 10 minutes later, another student came in crying, pretty much saying the exact same thing. After five minutes of discussion, I sat in my desk, stunned… and with two iPods on my desk.
Perhaps, I should have exacted discipline from these students… asked for their transfer from my class, sent them to the assistant principal for suspensions, made an example of them in my class. But I couldn’t help but see myself in their shoes, coming into God’s classroom, trying to explain the unexplainable… moments of insanity that lead me to really dumb mistakes. And I know that, although He can demand justice, He offers mercy. And while I am not God, I decided to offer mercy.
In the end, when students asked what happened, and who the culprits were, I simply said, “I’m not a snitch.” My students are good people, and yet it seems like there is such a sense of desperation and depravity in their community, one in which stealing and fighting are okay and acceptable… a society in which minding your own business is valued over compassion. It is a community of fear… fear of retaliation, fear of vulnerability, fear of victimization. And that drives me insane, knowing that these wonderful students are held hostage by a prevailing attitude that declares, “Just worry about you.”
Coming back to the reality of the situation, I have found that some people steal from others because they have been stolen from, or because they simply do not have. While wrestling with this idea of how to stop this cycle of injustice… I came up with a crazy idea. Here’s my thought: having a collection of old but functional iPods to loan out to students for an indefinite period of time. Students who do not have music devices can use them for however long they want (a month, five years, forever, etc).
However, if in the future, they decide to buy a newer iPod or other mp3 device, they would simply be asked to return the loaned iPod. If the iPod gets jacked, they have risked nothing; that all falls on me. Students would be unable to “steal” the iPod from me simply because it is offered as a gift. Perhaps the biggest thing, though, as I contemplate whether this is completely ludicrous or not, is this: in order for my students to start developing trust in anyone else, they first need to see that trust given to them. More than history, or math, or science, these students need someone to teach them how to have faith in other people… to show them how to trust others.
I know this makes probably no sense at all, but I can’t help but feel like at the very least, if iPods are offered for free on a permanent loan basis, students will stop jacking each other and start jacking me. And I think I can live with that. I will tell you what I told my students. In the end, the iPods and phones, the money and cars and clothes we wear, will not mean anything. If that is the case, then why should we hold on to them so dearly?
“Prayer Request #22: For God to overpower a community of fear with His free gift of love… and iPods. 10/26/09” If you are interested in speaking to Drew about this, donating your old iPods, or offering it up for purchase or barter, you can contact Drew here, at [email protected].
Drew is a high school teacher in a low-income neighborhood. His students make fun of his robot dance, but deep down, he knows they are pretty impressed. He is extremely passionate about God’s heart for social justice, as well as the UCLA Bruins and the Boston Red Sox.