Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tears aren't going to cut it

I am an elementary school teacher. My official job is to educate children; my unofficial job is to give hugs when my students are down, to mediate squabbles, and to teach my students how to be good people. I've started this post many times over the last several weeks, and have been unable to complete it.

The horrific events at Sandy Hook have left us all reeling. I have tried valiantly to avoid news coverage, and have marshaled all of my forces to behave as if everything is the same in my classroom. Except it's not. The parents that picked their children up on 12/14 knew it; they squeezed them extra hard, and one mother with red-rimmed eyes hugged me and simply whispered "thank you." I can't help looking at the first grade classes, continually noting how very, very small they are. We have all shed many tears, both for the children and their teachers, knowing that each one of us would do exactly the same for our students if confronted by the unthinkable.

There have been many calls for things people can do to honor those killed - performing 26 acts of kindness for each person murdered, creating snowflakes to decorate the new school where the students will be housed. These are loving and generous ideas. But for me, they are not enough.

I cried when 13 people were killed at Columbine, and again when 12 people were killed at the Aurora movie theater. I have tears springing to my eyes as I type this, and I have realized that my tears, and acts of kindness, and snowflakes are not enough.

I am a teacher, and I value information. So I started doing some research. And now, after digging through piles of information, though I am still fighting tears, I am also fighting anger. Anger that in a country with incredible resources, these mass murders are allowed to continue. Anger that we seem to value the lives of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens less than the "rights" of gun owners. Anger that the official response of the NRA CEO, Wayne LaPierre, is to call for armed guards in every school. I wonder if he realizes what a group of 20 six and seven year old first-graders looks like.

In a country with immense wealth and education, we have somehow allowed this state of affairs to continue. We have had so many mass murders in America that you can actually see a map of them (approximately 62 since 1982). What's even more appalling to realize is the amount of children that are killed by guns in America every year, which last year totaled the equivalent of more than two dozen Sandy Hooks. And still we do nothing.

I have had enough. America has had enough. I will shed tears, and I will make snowflakes, and I will mourn for all the children who have died. However, I will also take action. I will be writing to my congresspeople, both on the state and federal level. I will be donating to organizations who support gun control action and legislation. I will be writing to my mayor to ask why he is not currently a part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. And I will return to school next week, and do my best to keep my students safe - with or without the assistance of my duly elected governmental officials.

We are better than this, and it's time to prove it.