Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Educating vs Training People to Respect Minorities

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

I've been putting my thinking cap on, especially in respect top social justice, arseholes and clueless people who say/do arseholish things - and especially on the idea of education vs training.

And I think there is a big difference.

Let me use Beloved as an example, because he loves to be my guinea pig so. Now, Beloved has an annoying habit (actually he has many many annoying habits) he hides things. He calls it tidying but, really, if we can't find things after he has "tidied them away" then it is hiding things in my book.

Now, when he "tidies" my desk I am in disarray for weeks afterwards. My paperwork, my files, my notes, they're all mixed up. Important client notes are mixed with reviews on the latest urban fantasy I've been reading, scattered with random memory aids about some orgs I work with mixed with some bank account statements and regularly covered with sticky notes and shopping lists I never use. This is not helpful.

Now, I can either educate Beloved, let him know how much chaos he is causing and how he should leave my desk alone for fear of giving me grey hairs and explain to him how very much it causes problems to me. Or I can train him by shouting and yelling, planning petty revenges and generally being as much of a pain as possible until he decides to leave the damn desk alone just so he doesn't have to listen to me whitter at him. 

Same result both times, but the difference is that an educated Beloved probably won't decide to "tidy" my briefcase away if he finds it lying on the living room floor (well, unless he's looking for petty revenge. And yes doing things that you know annoy your husband for malicious glee is a perfectly sensible way of resolving things) while a trained Beloved probably will - since I yelled at him about the desk, not the briefcase.

And so we come to social justice spaces and movements. And there are a whole lot of "trained" people who know that if you say X word then there will be a storm of pissed off people to jump up and down on you. But they're trained, not educated so will still use Y word and Z word. Or they'll say the same damn clueless, prejudiced thing and carefully NOT use the word. 

So training is always bad and education is good, right? We should have no place for "training" right?
Well, no.

See, to use another of my guinea pigs, we take my family. I have tried and tired and better tried to educate my family and each occasion I leave feeling more dispirited, more downtrodden and with a super-strong urge to empty a very large bottle of rum. I have tried and I give up. I really do. To educate someone they have to have a clue and they have to want to learn otherwise battering your head against a brick wall is more fun and more productive. But, I can train them. I can train them that saying X or making Y joke makes Sparky blow up all over you, isn't he an irritating little pc-obsessed queen? *eye roll* *tut* *mutter* Whatever, it stops them using the words, making the jokes and at least attempting to scrape their nasty tongues clean and generally lets me stumble through life that little bit easier. Yes it's nice to educate people, but when they act like wild dogs, the best you can do is train them.

There's also the problem of the time, effort, energy and strength it takes to educate. We don't have  enough time, we're not always strong enough and it's often very wearing on sore sports. Hence my long old post (pimping? Moi?) about Not always being able to have a "polite" conversation. 

Frankly, educating people costs a lot more than training them and, to my cynical mind, has a much lower success rate even if the "success" of training is limited, short term and narrow. Educating people is also very much a two way street and most people will not co-operate with that.

And it's easier to educate people who have been trained. Even if it's only basic, having those painful conversations with someone  who isn't dropping slurs and fails all the damn time. It smooths off the rough edges and makes the painful waste of time - I mean, 'education' that is to follow a little easier.

So, yes, I think there's a place for both. Especially since the majority of the population doesn't give a damn - they're not interested in being educated or educating themselves. But they can be trained - be it from having people sit through one of those dreadfully boring equality videos through to, yes, having bloggers, reviewers and various orgs jump up and down wagging fingers because they say some bigoted shit or pulls some ridiculously offensive stunt even through to knowing you can't make THOSE jokes because that co-worker may get you into trouble for it. And that's not the end goal and it's not long term success. We won't have equality and justice if our overall aim is to have everyone trained rather than educated but it does make life a little easier and hopefully lays the foundation for education to come. And if not - well, again, there are a lot of dogs out there who can't be educated at least training them reduces how much we get bitten.