Citizenship: When Does the Conscience End and the Law Begin?

He hadn’t meant to say it. It was one of those things that kind of just rolled off of Dominic’s tongue. Before he could stop it. It wasn’t the first time. When he was in 2nd grade he told Emmy that her curls looked like noodles. He thought that was a cool thing. Her rolling tears said she clearly didn’t. In 3rd grade, he told Miguel, his best friend, that his breath smelled like Doritos. Come on, there are far worse things for one’s breath to smell like. But Miguel didn’t speak to him for a week. And now, here he was in grade 4, still the same old blabber mouth. But this time it was more serious. He had said something not so nice again. About a teacher. 


“Miss Diaz is so young,” he informed the class when she was out in the hall having a private conversation. “I don’t think she knows anything. She probably doesn’t even know how to add or subtract without using her fingers. She probably can’t even name all the states…or read a chapter book.” 


A few kids laughed. Some looked down at the floor. Uncertain of how to respond. Armando spoke up. “Dude, that’s not cool to say that about her. She is nice. And I like that she’s young. She gives us awesome projects to do. And I don’t know about you, but she makes me laugh. She’s the best teacher I ever had.” 


Dom shrugged. “I don’t care. I just think she’s dumb.” 


Armando cared. A lot. And told. Not in the tattletale snitch kinda way. But out of just-plain-caring.


For a second he regretted it. Ms. Diaz looked hurt. Stunned in fact. Before she could decide what to do about it. Armando spoke up, “Miss D., you should take him to court. He broke a law. The one that says you must respect all citizens.” 


And so she did. She didn’t turn the case over to the principal. She didn’t make a phone call home. She didn’t even reprimand Dom. His fate was for the judge and jury to determine. 


Dom presented his case with the help of the lawyer he hired. Eva, a 7th grader, who found a loop hole. “My client is not guilty,” she declared. “The law says that all MicroSociety citizens must respect one another. Miss Diaz is not a citizen.”


Gus, the prosecutor gave her a look. Didn’t faze her one bit. “Miss Diaz doesn’t pay taxes. She doesn’t vote. She didn’t even take the citizenship test.” 


“Your honor, I disagree. All of our teachers are citizens. They contribute to our society. We couldn’t do this without them. Taxes or no taxes, vote or no vote, they deserve our respect.” Gus rebutted in his closing remark. 


The judge thanked both sides and then asked the jury to go off to determine the verdict. But they couldn’t. They clearly agreed that Dom was guilty of disrespect. But that citizen part of the law had them stuck. Was a teacher a citizen or not? 


“Of course,” commanded some. “No way,” demanded others. After over an hour of deliberations, they came back hung. 


There wasn’t much the judge could do. Besides request that Dominic repair his offense with an official apology note to Ms. Diaz. And put him on a six month probation. No mean words. No gossip. No slander. No joke. 


No more decided Dom. Curls were curls and he wouldn’t waste his breath on others’ breath. Ms. Diaz was young. But then again so was he. 

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