This guest blog is part of a series, “A Network of Innovation: Ideas, Questions, and Wisdom from our LA Partner Schools.” Probably the most important and consistent focus of our collaboration with our partner schools, developing and maintaining a strong school culture and community has been tricky under the conditions of the pandemic. In this honest reflection, New LA Middle School principal Gabrielle Brayton wrestles with how easily educators take for granted that students see community as an inherent value. She asks, in this moment where many have contracted their Universe of Obligation, how can educators make the case that students should care and look out for each other?
Right around the time the Syrian refugee crisis was at the height of its media coverage in the U.S., I noticed a familiar kind of backlash on my newsfeed. Amidst the photos showing desperate throngs of people escaping with only their lives, between the articles imploring me to donate or explaining how I could help Syrian refugees, I saw another kind of plea. "Don't Let Them In."
I wasn't surprised by the politicians who were quick to go on record, justifying all the reasons the U.S. could not or should not extend offers of asylum, however I was a bit taken aback by the similarly swift response by several of my friends on social media. Suddenly memes were appearing on my feed, with messages such as "No Syrian Refugees Until ALL of Our Veterans are Off the Street. Hit 'LIKE/SHARE' if You Agree!" In no time at all, I was reminded by multiple people of the pressing issues that "should" take precedence over the refugee crisis. Homelessness, unemployment, the war on terror-- all of these were suggested as reasons why a person was simply unable to care about the thousands of uprooted families fleeing violence. This really made me wonder, is there a "Compassion Cap"? Does showing concern for one issue leave a person unable to care about another matter? Is our “Universe of Obligation” a series of tightly drawn circles or an expansive space that includes all of humanity?