God Bless the Children

We heard of the horror in Newtown during eighth period, at the end of the day.  The halls in our own school were Friday afternoon quiet. In classrooms, our teachers were hoping to make the most of every instructional moment, our kids hoping to hear the clock click to 2:43 announcing the weekend, and everyone feeling very safe in a place where everyone should be very safe.

The loss is unimaginable. 20 kids, all between ages of 5 and 10.  20 kids who went to school this morning and who will never come home. 20 kids, each with a family, each with a life as yet unlived.  Maybe they looked forward to singing a song in music today.  Maybe they were worried about a Friday spelling test. Maybe they almost missed the bus. Maybe they had play dates scheduled for this afternoon and basketball practice on Saturday morning. Maybe their families already had holiday gifts wrapped and hidden in the hall closet.

Radio and television news feeds us continuous information– all piecemeal–because we are hungry for details.  No, not out of any morbid need for gruesome facts, but because acts this heinous demand that we know why. Why would this 20 year  old killer–hardly more than a kid himself–fire upon a classroom full of kindergarteners?  There is something in us that makes us think if we know why, we can make sense of this unthinkable evil.

The fact is there is no possible way to make sense of it. Reporters and anchors and television experts will try.  Police investigators and psychiatrists and  politicians will try.  And quite honestly, we need them to try. We need to try ourselves, even as we know it is not possible.

Sometime in the next day or so, a portrait of the shooter will emerge.  It won’t be pretty. It won’t matter, either, though, because in the end, anything we learn about him won’t tell us what we want and need to know, won’t definitively tell us why.

There is no why.

There will be tales of heroism, too.  Already we have heard of the teacher who brought her first graders into a classroom restroom and kept them there, refusing to open the door even when first responders pushed badges under the door, all the while reassuring these scared fifteen kids that she would take care of them, that she loved them, that it was going to OK.

The best we can do as adults is make the kids in our lives–our children, grandchildren, neighbors, students–feel safe and secure. Let them know we love them. Hugs and kisses all around.  For their sakes and for our own well being, we have to be sure we tell them that we will be here to care for them. It is our job to protect the young and vulnerable.  Forget synthesis and differentiation and metatcognition; forget all the rest of the educational alphabet soup and bureaucratic drivel that has seeped into our classrooms and now drives what we do.

And we have to hug one another as well, reaffirming the significance of life, validating the possibility that good can somehow once again find a way to trump the evil that we have seen at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I know the Newtown teachers and their students must go back to school, but I do not know how they will.

School Heroes

 

My first heroes were my parents. My mother and father loved me unconditionally and in addition to providing me with the staples of survival, taught me the tenets of morality and humanity that have guided me through life for some fifty years.

When I was old enough to go to school, I discovered another class of heroes: teachers. I n red brick public schools , in the care of those heroes,   I learned to read and to write.  I learned long division and later calculus. I learned about democracy and Buddhism and the Congress of Vienna.  I saw Dick and Jane and Spot run and I embraced the genius of Shakespeare and Fitzgerald.    But perhaps more important than academic data acquired in those schools, were the daily challenges to live the ethical ideals my parents expected me to apply even when out of their sight and earshot.  It was in these experiences that my school heroes helped me most.

They were always there: in the front of the room, looking over my shoulder, at the head of the line, appearing whenever, where ever they were needed.   Some marched in impossibly high heels, a comforting cadence on linoleum corridor floors.  Others glided effortlessly among our desks in colorful, flowing garments of the counter culture.  So many years later, I remember their names, their faces, their expectations.  These men and women demanded that I never settle for less than my best.  Though I tried repeatedly to evade them, they accepted no excuses for late work or unkind actions.  “What do you mean you don’t have a pen,” Miss German asked in front of the rest of the sixth grade.   That day, I also learned the meaning of a rhetorical question.   The consequences varied from classroom to classroom, but there remained the explicit understanding that what I did—or more often, did not do—was my own doing—or undoing, as it might be.  My school heroes taught me early on to man-up, that a lesson learned would never be  an error wasted.

And it didn’t occur to me to complain to my home heroes about a scolding or a detention, either.  I just knew that my parents wouldn’t be any more pleased about transgressions than my teachers had been.  When Mr. Danzig sat me out of kickball for unsportsmanlike behavior, I didn’t mention it at home, praying the rotary wall phone wouldn’t ring with the news.  The same held true for talking incessantly in Mrs. Horan’s global studies class or neglecting Mr. Kanze’s sixth grade arithmetic assignments.   The heroes on the home front were united with the heroes at school.  It was a brilliant alliance, one that gave me the priceless chance to live up to my potential every day, in every subject.

For this—and so much more– I thank my parents and my teachers. Together, my home heroes and my school heroes made me accountable.  With one voice, they reminded me to be my best.  I am ever grateful.  Their continued collaboration on my behalf helped me discover my talents, confirmed the rewards of hard work, propelled me toward personal and professional success.  When people expect you to do your best, more often than not, you do.