Posts Tagged ‘Newtown’

Day Five – A Bad Idea

December 18, 2012 8 comments

The thought of teachers and principals packing heat at school scares me. People owning guns because they like to hunt, participate in shooting competitions, or feel the need to protect their homes – that’s all fine. But guns at schools? I just can’t accept that.

Nonetheless, it’s an idea that will probably get serious consideration during the next legislative session. I imagine it will be discussed more than school funding, in fact.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve talked with some teachers, administrators, parents, and students. I talked to people I know, so this was – to say the least – a sample of convenience. The vast majority of people I discussed this proposal with were against it. Some were not. While I find the idea to be completely unreasonable, there are a number of otherwise reasonable people who disagree with me. That reality still doesn’t make it palatable.

If you’re a teacher faced with the unthinkable, your duty is to protect your children. Your responsibility is to stay with them. It is not your job to create crossfire. Or to run down the hall on some sort of a quest. As a teacher, it is always your job to supervise your students.

Locked doors have served as a deterrent in past shootings, including the one Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Guns in classrooms will create anxiety to a degree that far outweighs any theoretical benefit. While some students in our classrooms have grown up around firearms, some have not. While some students are well-trained in gun safety, others have had their neighborhoods torn asunder by violence and would prefer not to see a gun in the place where they’re supposed to feel safe.

This is part of the conversation we need to have about making our schools safer. It’s an idea that we’ll hopefully discuss, seriously, and then reject. You can be completely well-intended and still have bad ideas.

The conversation cannot stop there, however. We have to talk seriously about our values. After the last few days, I’ve learned that I’m supposed to be afraid of: single mothers, guns, drugs, video games, movies, atheists, religious fanatics, the mentally ill, schools, special needs children, gun enthusiasts, and gay marriage. This list of scapegoats shows our collective grasping for an explanation.

The truth is that we can never have a world in which all people treasure each other for their differences. We don’t know what made the shooter snap, and as I said Sunday, I’m not interested in reading up on him. I’m not interested in that as much as I am in the stories of heroic teachers, grieving families, and a recovering community.

On the political side, yes, I do think it’s fair to ask our elected leaders what loyalty the NRA has bought with their donations. I think it’s time to ask if it’s ok that someone could walk into a public place (remember, this doesn’t just happen in schools) with enough ammunition to just keep spraying until the authorities arrive. That’s another idea that I hope we find ludicrous.

By the way, I get that this is Oklahoma. I get that my opinions here may cost me some of my following. That’s fine. I’ve tried to address some of these ideas as respectfully as I can, and I always welcome respectful dissent and discussion.

Day Three: Recovering

December 16, 2012 Comments off

Every blurb I read about Newtown (I’m finished reading about the shooter), creates a more vivid montage – one part Thornton Wilder, one part Norman Rockwell, and one part Garrison Keillor. This is a town where people have high hopes for their children – a town where people are connected to their nation but full of pride for their community.

I grew up in a town like that, and I live in one now. Many – I hope most – of us feel that way about the place we call home. As I listened to President Obama speak tonight in Newtown, I set aside the other blog post I’ve been writing off and on all day. It’s just not my priority. I’m still fixated on what it means to have your family, your school, your community, and your entire worldview shattered.

Our Town focuses on the stages of life, with a mixture of nostalgia and irony. As the characters rush to reach the mundane, they walk right past the significant. The children killed at school Friday don’t have a chance to make it to Act II even.

Perhaps the most famous work of Rockwell’s portfolio is the Four Freedoms. One of these is the Freedom from Fear. This will be the hardest thing for people to gain back after Friday. It’s not so much that we keep thinking if it can happen there it can happen anywhere. Of course it can. And it has. Repeatedly.

We all believe – as do the residents of Lake Woebegone – that our hometown is a land “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” This is, in part, why we also believe through the despair that we can live beyond such a tragedy and repair the lives that remain.

We weep and grieve collectively when children are murdered. We know it’s unnatural. We feel something similar to a lesser degree when a family member, friend, or colleague goes too early – say in their 40s. But we all understand, that statistically speaking, it’s just so much more unnatural for children to go.

I am – sometimes to a fault – always interested in data. If someone dying at age 45 is a standard deviation off from the normal distribution, then someone dying at 16 is at least two away. Someone dying at six is at least three.

It’s the magnitude of the loss that continues to bother me. Students taken way too soon. Three standard deviations or more too soon. And so many of them. And for no apparent reason. It doesn’t match what we know about our communities – whether we’re talking about the local level or the nation as a whole. This just doesn’t happen.

I’m still alarmed at my own reaction Friday; I was prepared to be numb at another school shooting in a high school. At least my brain has formed a schema for that – a cold, pragmatic schema. Suburban angst has been chronicled by bands such as Rush and Nirvanna. And it has been lived out far too many times.

We are a sometimes callous nation with a tremendous capacity for action and empathy when catastrophe strikes. It’s not enough to care about the children – or the communities – just when times are tough. We have to care all the time.

And yes, this is part of the reason I’m proud of the career path I’ve chosen. I know what it’s like to stare at a room full of 35 students and know there is no limit to what you would do for them. I know what it’s like to become ensconced in the community. I know what it’s like to grieve with students in times of tragedy and work with them as they collect food or help build homes for the needy.

Tomorrow, we still grieve. And many of us will do so publicly. Many of us – a thousand miles away from Newtown – will grieve with students asking questions that we still don’t know how to answer. And maybe the best thing we can say is, I love you, and I’d do anything I could to keep you safe.

Then the day after tomorrow, we can work to keep every student free from fear. We can work to make sure they’re all still progressing towards above average. And we can reclaim our towns.

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Day Two: Anger

December 15, 2012 Comments off

People who frequent my blog know that I like to use numbers to explain my thoughts. After reading about the victims in Newtown, the numbers that got my attention were the single digit ones. All the sixes and sevens on the page. It still makes me sick, but today, I’m mostly angry.

Twenty children got to live a third of their childhoods.

I’m angry at the media for putting cameras in the survivors’ faces, for getting the facts wrong, and for showing parents in their most vulnerable moments. I’m angry at people who continue to ignore that this country has an obsession with violence. I’m angry at people who think it’s ok miss the trend data. And I’m angry at myself – because every thought I have on legislation that should be passed would (a) punish law-abiding people I know; and (b) not have done a thing to prevent yesterday’s slaughter.

I’m angry, in part, because I know we have a problem, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to solve it. More than that, I’m angry because there are also people who don’t want us to have the conversation at all.

This is the hardest thing in the world to talk about. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. People keep dying. Some are adults, but some are six and seven.

The time has come to have this conversation.

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December 14, 2012 1 comment

I heard the news during lunch today. There was another school shooting. I couldn’t eat. It sickened me.

Then I saw a headline: 27 dead. Unconfirmed. Maybe that wasn’t right. But it was. And that made the tragedy several degrees worse. I was sickened and cold.

Then I read an article. The shooting was in an elementary school this time. Somebody did the unthinkable in a kindergarten classroom. And for some reason, again, this made it worse. I was sickened, cold, and unable to breathe.

Why worse? Loss of life to violence at any age is tragic. I guess it’s hard to explain, but it just is worse. I’ve been a parent to children of all ages. I’ve worked in schools with children of all ages. This shooting changes more lives than we can count – forever. The fact that this happened somewhere that should be nothing but a happy place would make me mad, if I could get past all the other emotions. But I can’t.

I know I haven’t felt this way in about 11 years. I’ve been in classrooms full of children during all kinds of tragedies: the Murrah Building, Columbine, 9/11. There are never words to answer the questions children have in times like these. And the parents call. What are you doing to keep my kids safe?

Every school has a disaster plan. But nobody has a plan for this. Nobody should have to. Every fear of every student and parent is legitimate. The feelings are real. They’re raw. And they’re recurring. Teachers have those fears too. They try not to think about it but they talk. What would you do if…I have no idea what I would do…I hope we never have to find out. That conversation has happened thousands of times in schools today. None of us know the answer, because we weren’t there.

In the past few hours, I’ve seen some poignant statements about the tragedy – some asinine ones too. Mostly just comments from completely numb parents, grandparents, and educators who can’t imagine someone killing children – of any age.

I love public education because I love kids. I love hope. I love a world of unlimited possibilities.

I hate today.

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