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No Civic Duty on Company Time

When teachers are summoned for jury duty they should postpone their service until their vacation and take it then. That would demonstrate professionalism and save the taxpayers money. This proposal, which doesn’t even rise to the level of an April Fools’ Day joke, comes from the City Council, which has otherwise been on the right side on so many issues concerning teachers.

If it is necessary to point out the absurdity of this idea, then we are more foregone as a society than the most humorless prophet of doom would declare. Citizenship is not a seasonal pastime like being a lifeguard. It’s besides the point that most teachers have second jobs during the summer and, perish the thought, family obligations and hobbies to pursue. And although we shouldn’t need to call upon legal technicalities to vindicate our fundamental rights, it is handy that we teachers don’t actually get vacation days and are deemed outlaws if we use sick days for anything other than medical reasons.

If this surpassingly preposterous scheme were put into effect, it would save the city around 6 million dollars over this year and next. That amounts to dinner every Monday for professional developers from the Outback.

When we were little kids and fed the American Dream/Apple Pie/George Washington’s Guilt Trip about the Cherry Tree/Abe Lincoln’s trekking ten miles in the driven snow to return a library book or pay back a penny Gestalt, the awareness was encroaching on most of us that it should be taken with a “grain of salt.”

But we really believed that jury duty and voting were holy days of obligation in this democracy and you don’t tamper with sacraments. But never say never.

When I discussed the concept of the “American Way” in my classroom my students knew that meant the jury system.

Jury duty, like so much in this promised land, is a mass of contradictions and a feast of ironies. It’s a volley between abomination and blessing. Ordinary folks, magically qualified almost regardless of defect by virtue of random selection from drivers license records, are convened to impersonate a cross section of the population. Incredibly, no finer way has been found to determine reasonable cause to believe and legally sufficient evidence. It is said that the odds of justice prevailing are even more favorable than the calling of unloaded dice.

And the City Council wants to deny me this except when the cicadas go whirring? Hey, teachers are needed year-round. Dockets are in a heavy bleed even when frost’s in the air. Suppose Bernie Madoff goes on trial during Regents week!

Jurors are the exclusive judges of evidence and as such are society’s conscience. Does the City Council propose that the exercise of conscience is an episodic duty that comes in fits and starts? Maybe we can save the city money by serving on juries only during our duty-free lunch periods. Oh I forgot, that’s become a popular time for departmental conferences.

Teachers are considered desirable jurors, not because the Commissioner of Jurors saves money since teachers will be paid as usual by their employer, but because of their qualities of understanding. If they cannot serve according to the protocols that are applicable to everyone else, then the City Council should propose also that the blindfold across the eyes of the holder of the symbolic scales of justice be replaced by a Halloween mask.

Many of us don’t feel equal to the task of judging our peers. It is a daunting franchise but one that cannot be broken up by bookkeepers. The big picture of citizen responsibility is bigger than the big picture of nickles and dimes.

Last time I was called I got to see some slick district attorney flustered and outsmarted by some dysfunctional street kid who happened to have truth on his side. A treat for all seasons.

I urge educators not to accommodate the city by deferring their jury service, even if it turns out to be a non-enforceable suggestion. Instead, sequester yourself on your lounge chair in July and spot the bluejays on your aerial. You’ve earned it.