Honor Them With Truth
Today, Pass The Chalk is running a series of reflections on the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. This post was originally published by withGanas.
I am shaken to the core by the massacre of children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.
The glimpses of unfathomable horror and fear and pain and sadness have at times been more than I can stomach. With some shame, I have found myself looking away, turning the radio off, trying to think about something else—hugging my own kids without letting them see my tears.
And the glimpses of immeasurable courage and love and humanity reacting to those horrors have at times been more than I can believe. With some shame, I question whether I would be brave enough to act in a moment such as that—to join the principal in her selfless attempt to stop the carnage, or to calm my children with crayons and paper in a storage closet in defiance of the chaos, or to tell a family that their 6-year-old was killed in his desk at school.
How can we possibly make meaning of this?
Like so many of you I have talked to in the last couple of days, I am longing to make it all make sense somehow, to find a way to tell myself that I can help, to do something. I suppose if I were more religious, I would say a prayer.
Some might say it is no different from saying a prayer, but what solace I can find in the wake of this massacre comes from embracing (on faith, I suppose) a simple conviction: We must honor these children and these teachers with truth.
In the wake of this horror, I am wrestling with four “truths,” and somehow hoping that my reflecting on them is in some microscopic way a tribute to those children and teachers:
- The depth of my own reaction to this tragedy does, in part, stem from the fact that I can so easily see my own children in those classrooms. I must acknowledge the self-focus of my emotional reactions: These were children in a place I send my children, these children were the age of my children, these children look like my children, and these teachers work and live in a community which I find easily familiar. I feel this massacre as more of a personal affront than I might otherwise. The truth is that my raw emotive reactions are inherently self-focused, that race and class are inextricably wound into my reactions, and that I am not fully in control of those dynamics within myself.
- It’s absurd to pretend that this massacre is an aberration in an otherwise peaceful U.S. landscape. Over the years 2008-09, the same number of children killed in Newtown were killed every two-and-half-days by guns across the United States. (To the point above, many of those deaths occur in low-income communities and in contexts in which I can so easily think, “Well, that’s not my life, my children, my self.”) In 2012 alone, there have been over a dozen mass shootings in the United States, including two of the deadliest in U.S. history. The truth is, we have an epidemic that kills more children than diseases and terrorism, and yet it is a taboo.
- We are way past stopping the guns from getting out there. There are about four privately owned guns in America for every child under 18. (That’s my math, based on The Atlantic’s report of 280–300 million privately owned guns and the government’s report of 70-plus million children in the U.S.) Yes, we need to regulate access to them. In various places and ways in the United States, we regulate our access to cars, to planes, to drugs, and to 32-ounce sodas. But I can get a semi-automatic assault rifle with little trouble. The widespread reality of guns in our society means we need to think about this problem much more broadly than “gun control.” The guns are already here. This problem is about the values we teach our children, the mental health care we offer children in need, and making it much harder to access the most dangerous weapons in our midsts. The truth is, even well-intended political calls for “gun control” fall short of addressing this problem.
- We have to stop letting mourning be a reason not to be angry. I know politicians have all kinds of pressures that I can’t understand, but it’s infuriating to me that a key political talking point in the wake of tragedy are “now, in the midst of mourning, is not the time to talk policy.” And, Mr. President, I appreciate your reaction as a shocked father and I relate to your sadness, but I want to see from you the indignant anger this deserves. The far right is fond of saying “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Ridiculous. Guns do kill people. And people kill people. And politicians who refuse to make it difficult to get assault weapons kill people. The truth is, if this was the work of terrorists, it would be the singular focus of our society and government, but instead people in power are afraid to talk about it.
We won’t bring those kids and teachers back. And we won’t stop the death of the child who has been killed by a gun somewhere in the U.S. as I type this.
I’m at a loss about how to fix this, but take the tiniest solace in honoring them with the truth.
Steven Farr has spent much of the last 12 years studying what distinguishes teachers in low-income communities whose students are making dramatic, life-changing academic and personal growth. He is the author of Teaching As Leadership and curator of www.teachingasleadership.org.