DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Flashback: Newtown - What Do You Say?

This post originally appeared in The Prices Do DC on Dec. 11, 2012.

Earlier this week, my wife and I headed to the Smithsonian Museum of American History to see a dedication ceremony where institution officials would be accepting one of the witches' costumes worn in the celebrated Broadway musicalWicked. Given the play's close connection to the classic children's story The Wizard of Oz, it wasn't surprising that we were joined by dozens and dozens of 4 and 5-year-old pre-schoolers, squirming in anticipation of what they were about to see. But despite the wonder and innocence that emanated from their smiling faces, I couldn't help but look at them differently than I would have just a few days ago. For this was post-Newtown, a name sure to join Columbine and Virginia Tech and way too many other American sites as a scene of evil personified - a place where young people were gunned down, victims of our society's growing propensity  for levels of violence that are almost incomprehensible for a rationale mind to comprehend.

As they entered the Smithsonian's huge main hall and approached the stage, the little ones, as little ones have been doing since the beginning of time, were holding hands with their partners. Instead of smiling at the warming sight, I kept flashing back to early news reports from Newtown that described how the surviving elementary students, shocked and shakened, were told to close their eyes and hold each others hands tightly as they slowly left the horror that had unfolded in their hallways.

Like you, I am struggling to come to grips with what happened last week in that Connecticut community. It hits home because I am an American. It hits home because I am a  father. It hits home because I am a grandfather to 2 precious grandchildren, who with their mostly Mom-, but sometimes Dad-packed lunches and young dreams, head off daily to their Atlanta area pre-school. And it hits home because for 34 of my 60 years, I was a teacher of the young, both as a high school English teacher and a journalism teacher at college.

As we waited for the Smithsonian ceremony, I wanted so much to rush to those kids and hug them. Of course, I didn't. As it should, society has strict prohibitions against strangers hugging children. And anyway what could I tell them as I held them tight? Don't worry, you will be OK. Such things will never happen to you. It may not seem that way now, but evil never triumphs over good. With the help of a strong mind, a loving  heart, fearless courage, and maybe even a wise wizard or a good witch, you will always be able to slay the wicked witches and safely find your way home.

Like you, I am struggling with ways to reduce this insane level of violence that is threatening to destroy America. I think we must look at many avenues. But I draw the line at one. This is how I put it on my Facebook page:

I continue to read comments from what I am sure are concerned, well-intentioned people contending that arming teachers and administrators is a way to stop school violence. As an educational professional with 34 years experience in teaching, 27 years of that time in inner city schools, I am no stranger to school violence. Obviously, it is a horrific problem and my thinking has evolved over time. So, today I say yes to any classroom instruction that helps show students violence is not a solution. I say yes to lessons that demonstrate the harm in bullying and promote tolerance and empathy. I say yes to units that require students to explore the negative effects of video games, song lyrics, TV, and movies. I say yes to in-school physical and mental health clinics. I say yes to locked doors and bullet-proof glass. I say yes to metal detectors. I say yes to well-trained, armed police professionals in the building daily. But I say no - in fact I say a thousand times no - to arming teachers and school administrators. That is an answer I must mark as wrong. 

Even though I am a committed opponent to all violence, I will readily admit that if I had a weapon, I would use it to save the lives of any of those little ones sitting before me on the Smithsonian floors. That decision would be even easier if it were my grandchildren. But here's the thing. I don't like living in an America where I have to consider that as an option. And I certainly wouldn't want to teach in an America that made killing one of my duties. I believe that there are other solutions. And those solutions aren't somewhere over some rainbow. They are right here in this American land we call home. We just need to use our heads and hearts to find them, and then have the courage to put them into action.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I have always had a fascination with words. I loved when my Mother read to me. As soon as I could read, I devoured DC comics and Classics Illustrated. In high school, I wrote for the school newspaper. In college, I was an English major, studying the great words of the world's greatest writers. I spent 10 years as a newspaper writer and editor. For 5 of those years, I taught news reporting at a South Jersey college. After that I spent 20 years as a high school English teacher, 5 years as a language arts/literacy coach, and 2 years in DC as an educational consultant. During those years, I had many responsibilities, but one of the main ones was helping students become better readers and more proficient writers. But even with all that training, words often fail me. I have learned that when that happens, I still can find someone who can express those views I believe need expressing, but am unable to say myself.  Here are 3 recent articles that fit that category. If you have the time, I hope you will read them.

Blog Archive

Popular Posts