And Justice For All

September 2, 2020 by

Allan Meier
Chief Allan at Allegany Boys Camp, 2019

This is the next interview in my series on justice, economic equality, and environmental stewardship. Allan Meier, age twenty-six, is a teacher here at Fox Hill. I asked him to tell me about his views on justice in connection with his experiences in education. Here’s what he said:

I love teaching because I love kids. It’s not hard when you look into their open, trusting faces and imagine the world from their perspective. And I can’t help smiling at their unabashed sense of justice: “That’s not fair,” they protest, if my instructions are not identical for everyone. “Hey, life’s not fair,” I tell them, “Get used to it.”

But what if it were? Why are we all born with the innate desire for justice, if a just society is purely utopian? My experiences may not reflect my sentiment, but I believe that true justice is achievable.

In 2016, I started working at a special education school in Kingston, New York. I was caught off guard: the effects of societal injustice were scrawled all over campus. My students bussed in from a range of sixty miles – refuse from a broken education system. On arrival they were checked for weapons and narcotics before being herded into classrooms, the very environment that had brought them failure and embarrassment. From there, staff were expected to teach the students all the Common Core criteria including state-required testing. In actual fact, keeping the students in the classrooms at all proved colossal, and frequent bursts of frustration resulted in overturned desks, flying chairs, and scattered art supplies. Discipline was nonexistent; success seemed impossible; attrition claimed scores of staff.

Regardless of the hours and energy I poured into my lessons, the result seemed fixed: you can’t teach a child whose home is chaotic, who has spent most of the night on the streets, who has played video games until three a.m., or who arrived without breakfast. At best, my repeat offenders would fall asleep on their desks. At worst they ran rampant around the school, setting off alarms and smashing windows.

In an attempt to control the environment, I took my students off campus for some outdoor classes. While this proved mildly successful, I was forced to stop, as other classes would see us leaving and vacate their rooms to join us. After the first year I was burning out fast: even my best efforts were sabotaged by school policy, state requirements, and factors that I could not control.

In August 2017, I went for an interview at Allegany Boys Camp, a wilderness program for troubled boys in western Maryland. While there, I spent a few days with the youngest group. My mind was blown: in that short period of time, I felt closer to those boys than to my Kingston students who had been with me for a year. Though painful, the decision to leave Kingston was not hard to make: camp was a facility capable of actually helping troubled kids; from my entire Kingston class, only one student successfully returned to public school.

I moved to Camp in January 2018, and never regretted it. It is always difficult to work with such a population, but the counsellors were all volunteers, dedicating their energies to helping these boys. The results were obvious: campers arrived belligerent, dishonest, disrespectful; many were socially inept and extremely hyperactive, bringing with them an enormous list of medical conditions and behavioral medications. Within eighteen months, most boys were ready to return home, often completely transformed, desiring to help their families, complete high school, and contribute positively to society.

His recipe for combatting it was simple: love God and love other people as much as you love yourself.And yet, even in a facility run by caring people, the effects of a very unjust society continued to reach long fingers into the boys’ lives. “Garrett” joined our group at the beginning of my second year at camp. He wasn’t an easy kid and was obviously traumatized by events from his childhood. After months of disrespect and hostility, he capitulated and began telling his group about the difficult events in his life as well as his deepest regrets. But Garrett’s adoptive parents, instead of encouraging his honesty and thanking him for making steps toward change, became angry at his admissions and demanded that he be punished for his previous actions. Camp pleaded for understanding and leniency but the cries fell on deaf ears; within the week, Garrett was arrested right out of his group. Crying, he was hand cuffed and taken to the waiting cop car. What could we say? The message was clear: honesty lands you in jail. Even his friends’ request for an address at which to write him were denied, and his parents severed all lines of communication.

During my students’ time at camp, most were transformed. But, once graduated from camp, many returned to hostile environments: unsupportive friends, old reputations, intolerant schools. Even personal metamorphosis proved too weak to combat societal injustice, and the ongoing support from camp was, at times, insufficient in preventing regression.

Throughout the years in Kingston and at Camp I’ve often felt overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of inequality and injustice and wondered what I could do to combat it. Jesus, in first century Palestine, was also the recipient of tremendous injustice. His recipe for combatting it was simple: love God and love other people as much as you love yourself. That is something that everyone can do – it resolves every injustice connected to our lives, and will inspire change in others. I am determined to live my life according to these simple instructions. That is why I joined the Bruderhof; here I can live my life to eradicate injustice in myself and in people around me because every member is committed to the same. This reciprocal relationship is powerful, and can prevent all causes of injustice. Church Community is possible for everyone. It is what Christ asks of us.


About the author


Sheyann McPherson

Sheyann McPherson studies History and English Literature at the University of Pittsburgh, and lives at Pittsburgh House.

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