“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.”–Aeschylus
I walked through the strangely-quiet darkened hall, down the familiar stairwell, and exited under a leaden sky with light rain falling. Students had left an hour or so earlier, and I was heading to a meeting regarding the next school year. Nonetheless, shouldn’t there be some magical feeling for the start of summer break? Instead, all ranges of emotions churned within my gut. How could I feel celebratory when my heart was reeling from ANOTHER school shooting? Meanwhile, the intensity of the rain increased . . .
Thinking back to the previous week’s events, I realize that powerful sentiments, including grief, were coming together like the confluence of several rivers vying for dominance as their waters merge. 35 years in education, and yet, all I could truly focus upon was the Uvalde community. What hopes and dreams were savagely snatched forever–even from those who survived–while terror reigned supreme inside the school and confusion, disorganization, and unbelievable anguish surrounded the school?
What about the two Robb Elementary educators? Between them, they had 40 years of teaching experience. Years of service to the community that were also brutally wrenched away. They too had children, spouses, parents, and loved ones. Their hopes and dreams were likewise vanquished.
Once more, a lone male–psychologically hurting–legally accessed weapons of war and played out his own private warfare on innocent victims. While we can state the school was at fault for having a door open, as an educator, I know the reality of schools. A door left open can happen (At the time of writing this, the report had not yet come out that, indeed, the teacher DID close the door, and the door’s lock malfunctioned). However, an open door at a school, or any community building for that matter, should not be considered an implicit invitation to mortal combat.
I was teaching and pregnant with my daughter when the Columbine shooting occurred. John, my husband, who is also an educator, and I sat in our modest house, silent tears streaming down our faces as we watched the news story unfold. How could that happen? Little did we know we were bearing witness to the start of what would become a terrifying trend in education. 23 years later, names of schools, nowhere near me geographically speaking, are as familiar as names of past students–Red Lake Senior High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Stoneman Douglas High School; and the list continues. Countless schools with families and communities forever changed and affected.
Several years after Columbine, I was teaching Kindergarten, and it was the first time for the school to practice an “Active Shooter Response Drill.” Given the fact that I had advance notice, I talked with my young students about the notion of “bad guys” and how the school had to practice what to do if a bad guy came to school– just like they practiced what to do in case of a fire.
Per procedure, the coded announcement came over the intercom, and I quickly ran to lock my classroom door and instructed my students to hide and cover as we had previously practiced. A well-meaning sheriff deputy repeatedly knocked on my classroom door stating things in an attempt to trick me to unlock the door. One student began to softly cry, followed by another, and another as I crept from one student to another trying to allay their fears and reassure them that this was pretend. Nonetheless, they were scared.
I share that memory to say, if those few moments of hiding in a darkened classroom evoked such a fear response in my former students, what terrors were experienced by those blameless children trapped in Robb Elementary School? What conflicting emotions must the teachers and staff members have experienced as they tried to keep their students safe and calm, while thinking about their own families, and watching one of their very own Uvalde youth massacre beloved students and colleagues?
Children are a sacred part of society, and the schools they attend are the heart of the community. When children and educators are in school, they should be active participants in learning, engagement, and educational problem-solving, rather than passive participants in a disturbed soul’s personal anger campaign. Parents, children, and educators should have the peace of mind that the school is valued, supported, and always protected by community leaders, policy makers, and societal structures, including local law enforcement
I am sickened by the politicians, community leaders, and even some journalists, who use the Uvalde event as an opportunity to point fingers, grow their audience, and puff up themselves with haughty righteousness. Their pandering, grandstanding, and virtue signaling are NOT solving the problem–which is multifaceted and requires multiple types of community interventions. To them I say, get off your soap box, get into communities and listen–I mean really listen with both ears–and then, work for real solutions rather than sound bites. Endeavor to genuinely serve your community, instead of posturing for cameras looking for the next crisis-opportunity for which you can preen and pose.
I end where I began this piece. Summer is starting, and schools have, or will soon be, dismissed for another academic year. Meanwhile, the blood of more children and more educators weaves and seeps into the soil and rubble of another school. There will be no more summers for them. No more new beginnings.
I once wrote about the importance of threading a needle when sewing. All the fibers of the thread must be concentrated and twisted together to go through the eye of the needle. Like the fibers of thread, it is easy for one fiber to get distracted, and when that happens, the thread will not go through. Once more, we, as a nation, are being asked to go through the eye of the needle. This is an opportunity to bind the ties that connect us–schools, children, communities–and sew together the common ground on both sides of the aisle. Can we avoid distractions, remain tightly focused, and come together in order to thread this needle? The silenced victims of the Uvalde classrooms beg us to do that.