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- No Right to an Education: Detroit Schools and the Secretary of Education Nominee - November 29, 2016
- I Think I Failed You – A Civics Teacher’s Letter to her Former Students - November 16, 2016
- Transforming the ‘Trump Effect’ in Schools - October 27, 2016
- Implicit Bias: The Missed Post-Debate Discussion - October 4, 2016
- 15 Years after 9/11: Days of Infamy & Memory as History - September 12, 2016
The next time every teacher in this country faces his or her students, whether this week or after the winter break, it will be with a heavy heart and deep sadness. Teachers died on Friday trying to save their students. And there is not a teacher still living who would not do the same. Much has already been written, and more will be written, about the utterly tragic and horrifying events of Friday’s massacre. We will be mourning and grieving and thinking through the sorrow that we now live with. A loss of this magnitude is unbearable.
And yet, in American society, parents and teachers and children face this kind of horrible loss on a daily basis. It is an unfathomable horror to see 20 first graders murdered in their classrooms. We can barely process it. We throw around comments like “it was a safe community,” “it was small town America,” “this kind of thing doesn’t happen here.” But we can’t get caught up in that kind of thinking because so many children across this country are faced with unspeakable gun violence every day.
These sudden, horrific events of mass killings shock us into discussion about gun violence, but children in cities like Chicago, Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia live with it every day. This year, there have been 500 gun homicides in Chicago. FIVE HUNDRED … and of those, 117 victims were under the age of 21. And politicians continue to wonder why the students who live in danger do so badly on their standardized tests. In Florida this year, two young, unarmed black teenage boys were shot and killed by white men who claimed they felt “threatened” by the boys, and because Florida – by law – allows them to feel they have the right to do so. A 9-yr old girl was killed because she attended a gathering with her Congresswoman. Earlier in last week, before we’d ever heard of Newtown, CT, a gunman opened fire on Christmas shoppers in a mall in my own city. Parents in Philadelphia send their children to school every day knowing those children are walking through gun violence that could hurt or kill them. One of my own former students was shot and killed in a drive-by while sitting in his car only months after his high school graduation. The horror of this every day, relentless, onslaught of gun violence in American children’s lives is unacceptable.
As President Obama said on Sunday evening in Newtown:
“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
Are we prepared to accept the need for lock down drills and the daily risk of our students’ lives as routine? What argument defending ownership of militarized automatic weapons can trump the fact that we have permitted a culture of gun violence to pervade our children’s lives? And some children in this country risk their lives every day because of it. And some children, who couldn’t even imagine living in a violent neighborhood, end up murdered in their classrooms. We don’t have to repeal the Second Amendment or stop a hunter from having a rifle in order to stop making it easy for children to die from guns.
In a strange, also horrific mirror event on the same day 20 American children and six teachers were killed in their school, in China, a mad man attacked children in their school. He slashed 22 young children with a knife before he was stopped. Devastating. There are going to be psychopaths in society, and we can – and must – have honest discussions about mental health care in our country, which is unacceptably lacking. There are going to be people not in their right minds who lash out and hurt others. And there are even going to be monsters who attack children. But, as horrible as that attack in China was – unlike here in the US, not one of those 22 children is dead. We don’t have to make it easy for unhinged people to kill. Yet, it’s incredibly easy here in this country. In fact, it’s easier to get a gun than it is to get or pay for mental health care.
This tragedy won’t go away anytime soon. And it has long lasting ripples that will hopefully – finally – snap us into action. I talked with my 10-year old son this morning, again. He said his teachers had talked with everyone in school on Friday – it was the second time they’d had a conversation this week about shootings (the first one was about the mall shooting in our community). He said that some kids had a lot of questions. I asked him if he had any questions about it. He proceeded to rattle off a series of events:
“You know, mom, the shooting at our mall this week, and the shooting at the school yesterday, and the guy who got pushed in front of the train last week… it seems like a lot of people are really mean and don’t care about hurting people.”
I was so sad – again – that my 10 yr old son was living in a world where he was aware of such violence, all perpetrated in the span of this last week. I’m so terribly heartbroken that our students must live in such a world, and that so many of them are directly affected by this violence on a daily basis. I sat with my students asking “why?” as we processed Virginia Tech. I sat with my students asking “why?” as we tried to work through the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the people at her rally. I sat with my students asking “why?” when Trayvon Martin was killed. And I’ve sat with my students, huddled in the back of the classroom during lock down drills, practicing for an eventuality that I pray will never happen again.
With my 10-year old, we talked about empathy and what it means to care about how other people feel and to not want to hurt others. Yes, there are people in this world who don’t have that empathy and who hurt others, but that is why it is so important to surround ourselves with friends and family and people we care about and who care about us, so we can get the chance to practice caring about others. For a 10-year old, this makes sense. For me, as a mother, as a teacher, as a human: it’s not enough anymore.
We can do better, America.
To buy Cari’s book that details her sudden unemployment, “How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks” please click here.