I know, I’m two days late. Toddlers and jobs and house guests and the holidays will do that. Moving swiftly on…
One of my favorite characters is Lloyd Dobler from the movie, Say Anything. He is famous to my fellow 30 somethings for the boombox scene – but to me, the most memorable part of the film is his career speech: “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.” (Yes, it’s worth quoting in its entirety.)
His reasoning here is why I initially became a teacher. I wanted to opt out, in a way, of the unpleasant realities of a capitalist culture. But if anything, teaching thrust me into the very root of its problems. Public school teaching is unique. Few professions allow adults to experience such a broad cross-section of present-day society. It is unlikely that, say, Boeing or Microsoft employees meet a wide variety of people on the job. My students have comprised a Presidential scholar, an ethnic Albanian who witnessed the brutal murder of his entire family, a kid who pulled off a perfect SAT score, a 12 year old who beat another student to death with a baseball bat, and a kid whose parents own a $7 million house.
I have also taught many students with various forms and in various stages of mental illness. Teachers know students who are already so angry that we cannot reach them. We know teenagers whose eyes look like empty black holes. We see students whose mental illness goes unrecognized by their mentally ill parents. We send these kids out into the world, knowing they do not have the skills necessary to survive emotionally in our society. But what can we do? What recourse do we have?
We all want to know: How do we make sense of what happened at Sandy Hook? And more importantly, how do we learn from it? It is horrifying to me that many people – from close friends to ex-students to political leaders – have suggested that we arm our teachers. I find this kind of reasoning simply incomprehensible. On a practical level, it is almost amusing. Just last year, for the first time in my career, I was given a cupboard for my bag and coat. (Previously, I slung personal items over the back of my chair.) So, firstly, where in heck could we store this gun, and how could we possibly access it quickly enough? How would we would train teachers to respond when we do not even have mandatory First Aid or CPR training? How do we fund the gun and the training when many of us already pay out of our own pockets for basic classroom supplies? Are people advocating this idea ready to pay the taxes necessary to make this actually work? It is wrong thinking on a level so major that I cannot find a way into these people’s heads. So, by the way, is the argument that by God’s grace, more children were not hurt. Where does one even start with the flaws in this sort of logic? And if you actually think this, how could you believe in such a God?
I believe we have a fundamental choice to view everyone with either suspicion or trust. The statistics support people like me who trust that most of us – even those with mental illness – are not going to shoot each other. The people bragging online about how they would have ‘blown the head off that bastard,’ to quote one friend, are inherently suspicious of their fellow humans. Personally, I would rather die than live that way. The vast majority of the students I have taught are now competent, caring adults who have truly enriched my life. Of the remainder, one might be a serial killer. And I am willing to take my chances even on her.
Back to ‘getting involved,’ though. This week has been excellent for the PLP. Reuven Carlyle, a representative for my district, put me in touch with a wonderful woman very involved in Seattle Public Schools. We chatted about ways to make changes at local schools, and she has connected me with others also hoping to improve local schools. One way is by attending a meeting, held every third Saturday at Cafe Appassionato in Magnolia, hosted by Seattle School Board Director Michael DeBell. I’ll be there in January.
I also received a phone call this morning from Progressive Majority, who support potential candidates in their bid for office. I am going through an initial screening to see whether or not I am a viable candidate, so we spoke about my previous leadership experience, my political views, and, for lack of a better word, my overall life philosophy. I hope I didn’t sound like an idiot – the phone call woke me up. Next comes a questionnaire and some fun meetings in January so I can start understanding the process of running for office. I will be reporting whatever I discover! As next Tuesday is Christmas, I will not be posting again until January 1st. Hug your family tight! Love, the PLP.