As a junior in college, I thought I had life figured out. However, Dr. Jamie Longazel’s Law & Society class proved I didn’t.
I have had the honor and privilege to be taught by a man who passionately cares about what his students learn. As a self-declared “un-teacher,” Jamie has dedicated his life to challenging institutional norms and inspiring others to care about each other. His class taught me to look beyond what is presented to me and get my hands on all the research.
“Humans are wired to be social, Nikki,” Jamie explained, “we strongly need each other. All living things are co-dependent. That is why we help each other.”
Jamie grew up in Hazleton, a small former coal-mining town in Pennsylvania . Hazleton is described as a working-class town. When anyone heard the term “community service,” everyone assumed it was a form of punishment. In schools, it was mandatory which made it seem uncool. Although Jamie had this view of community service, his experiences in college changed his mindset.
“I started college right after 9/11.” Jamie told me. “Several of my friends had joined army right after high school, and then this happened. All of it got real, real fast.” Jamie saw the immediate effects of 9/11, which drew him to anti-war activities. By immersing himself in a world of academia, Jamie became more political. He started becoming more class conscious and at the same time was taking many sociology classes. Slowly, he began to realize what it meant to be from a working-class family. This influenced and shaped the way he approached his research.
Shedding the Shit.
“I am an un-teacher,” Jamie says, “we are conditioned in a way to see certain things. But, teaching – especially teaching students who are members of marginalized groups – involves un-teaching those ideologies. Basically, we are shedding all the shitty stuff and coming out with new, healthier ways of seeing the world and our place in it.” Jamie naturally gravitated to teaching. After his few first classes, Jamie knew he had a natural talent for teaching.
“I don’t see teaching as community service,” Jamie said, “I see it as my calling. It is my job to teach.”
“Why do you teach?” I asked him one day.
“I enjoy helping students grasp concepts so that they can one day call me, interview me for their blog, then go change the world.” Jamie said.
“Alright, that seems pointed.” I replied. (Also, that’s exactly what I will continue to do.)
Shedding the shit goes beyond teaching for Jamie. A few years ago, he wrote a book called Undocumented Fears. It focuses on Jamie’s hometown, which passed one of the nation’s first local-level anti-immigrant ordinances called the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. Simply put, this act would punish landlords and businesses for renting to or hiring undocumented people. Also, it wanted to make English the official language of the city.
Horrified by the obvious racist rhetoric and disappointed with those believing the lies, Jamie decided to expose the corruption and poor-decision making of city officials in his hometown. Local leadership blamed immigrants for the current economic problems in the town. However, that wasn’t the case. During his research, Jamie noticed a pattern of blaming immigrants for the economic problems dating back 100 years. This pitted the more established members of the working-class against immigrants.
“The racism was so obviously bad that it wasn’t hard to debunk this notion,” Jamie said, “the best part of the book’s release was when folks in my hometown thanked me for writing the book. Empirically and morally, my research needed to be shared.”
Why We Help Others.
According to Jamie, capitalism teaches us to be completive which may work in an economic sense but it goes against our human nature. We recognize that we all need each other, but we are competitive. Jamie gave the example of how trees function.
“At first we thought trees competed for the sunlight, instead they share nutrients with each other.” Jamie explained. “They block each other to get to it, but each of them needs the light. Trees give back more to us than they receive from the sunlight. They give us shade, oxygen and supplies.” Basically, I learned that all of us compete to be self-sufficient but ultimately use our abilities to help our communities. All living things are interconnected; hence, we have to not only take care of ourselves but each other.
While speaking with Jamie, both of us realized that it’s difficult to explain what draws us to help others. It’s a hard feeling to articulate. Maybe it’s difficult because all of us have something internal speaking to us. Whether it be our conscious, religion or personal philosophy, everyone has some instinct to help others.
“We help others when we recognize each other’s humanity.” Jamie said. As a future public defender, that could not be truer for me. My job requires me to look past the surface of a case and look for the humanity in everyone accused. (Thanks for reminding me of that Jamie!)