There Are No Good Guys, and Other Teachable Moments from the Kavanaugh Hearing

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Brett Kavanaugh, now United States Supreme Court justice, is the latest in a string of men publicly demonstrating that there are no good guys.

Hang onto your #notallmen comebacks. There are no good guys – and there are no bad guys.

This type of binary thinking (good vs. bad) is problematic. Whether considering the sexual abuse epidemic in the Catholic church, or the extraordinary number of stories from the #metoo movement, a common theme is that people accused of assault are rarely pure villains. Someone out there is usually willing to vouch for their character, even to summon a respectable letter from the community attesting to their wholesomeness and good deeds. To take this as evidence that they have never once behaved inappropriately, however, is a logical fallacy with potentially serious consequences.

If a child understands that the adults in their life believe a religious leader/neighbour/doctor/family member/teacher is a ‘good guy’, and we’ve taught children to internalize people as being on one side or another of a good/bad binary, how might that impact their interpretation of a sexual assault? How might that influence their likelihood of reporting the ‘good guy’, or seeking help?

As educators, we can support children to see people as nuanced, and work to dismantle this simplistic good vs. bad misconception. Doing so may also encourage a healthier self-concept by giving little ones the chance to recover from mistakes that inevitably accompany learning. Otherwise, when a child uses binary thinking to judge themself, a simple misstep may create unnecessary internal conflict. Educators who cultivate a growth mindset with students will recognize this approach.

I do not mean to equivocate minor childhood gaffes with actual crimes, and this is not to say that someone who commits sexual assault in high school (allegedly) should be excused their behaviour and rewarded with a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States. Certainly we must face consequences for our choices. But, is Brett Kavanaugh entirely evil? Plenty of supporters would say no, and I agree: nobody is completely good or completely bad.

Other teachable moments from the Kavanaugh hearings:

  1. Sexual assault is not normal teen behaviour – it is violent behaviour. Let’s keep saying this loud and clear, and teaching children about consent early and often.
  2. Binge drinking is not normal teen behaviour; less than 1 in 3 American teens report drinking at all, and only 13% report binge drinking (defined as 4-5 beers in a row)[1]. Let us not normalize underage drinking.
  3. If a yearbook quote can follow you to a job interview in your 50’s, so can a social media post. Take care with online footprints.

If the recent U.S. Supreme Court nomination process came up with your students, how were you able to use it as a teachable moment?

 

[1] 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/results.htm

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5 Responses to There Are No Good Guys, and Other Teachable Moments from the Kavanaugh Hearing

  1. Todd G says:

    Particularly poignant to me is the notion of a false binary here. Having known survivors of extended sexual abuse, I’ve seen how this misunderstanding can play out. Someone told me once of her childhood abuse, and her dependency on the perpetrator, that she had to “learn to love someone and hate someone at the same time.” That broke my heart. Decades later, victims look back on their abuse and wonder how they could have understood what occurred in two opposing ways simultaneously. The answer is not that their situations existed in two places at once, but that the circumstances are more nuanced than the simplistic binary of “good vs. bad.”

    The problem is that many perpetrators have exploited the good/bad dichotomy to their advantage in their crimes. Chasing the red herring of who is good and who is bad has led us down the wrong path of defining people at the expense of holding them accountable. “There’s no corroboration” were the only words Flake could muster as justification for a vote that negated Kavanaugh’s responsibility for his past offenses. This is not an all or nothing proposition, and the idea that it must be completely one way or not at all is the same mentality that results in the current state of our highest court. When we stop holding people accountable for their bad actions because we can’t comfortably define them to ourselves as bad guys, then we have been played. Sadly, we all have to now live with the result.

  2. Joel M says:

    It is really deplorable in the profession of education when people interject their subjective politics and personal issues as truth, especially with young minds that are easily influenced. This article not only encourages this, but changes the English language with PC Newspeak. “Binge drinking” is drinking for days, markedly not 4-5 beers “as defined (by no one, which is why you had to redefine that yourself here).” This is a projection of your own personal issues, even going so far as to changing our language to accommodate that, and further presenting such as unabated truth to foreign students. Which will only serve to confuse them with inaccurate language and convoluted “facts.” It is just incorrigibly selfish, and furthermore a disservice to your students.

    • Emily Meadows says:

      Dear Joel M,

      Thank you for your readership.

      As referenced in my footnotes, binge drinking is defined here by the United States Centres for Disease Control, which is the organization that published the report I’ve cited. Their study, commonly known as the YRBSS (Youth Risk Behaviour Surveillance Study), has been conducted annually since 1991 to monitor trends in American high school students’ health and lifestyle risks. This most recent survey included 14,765 young people across all 50 states, and was carried out by a team of academic and medical professionals. You are welcome to read more about the methodology and results of the project here: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/results.htm

      Sincerely,

      Emily Meadows

  3. The good guy may indeed do a very bad thing. Ms. Meadows is absolutely correct in her observation that equating a false dichotomy around sex offenses and childhood sexual abuse is dangerous. Framing sexual offenders as monsters contributes to denial, leads offenders to minimize, rationalize and ultimately ‘forget’ their acts, and creates a cycle of blame for victims and survivors. If we continue to perpetuate the myth of sex offenders as pedophiles, predators, and only male, we perpetuate a cycle where the offender isn’t caught, doesn’t reflect, offers no healing apology, and is unaware of their impact on others.

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