This afternoon my son called home from college. He went straight past hello, to “There’s a crisis on campus.”
My heart had filled with ice water and I was halfway to my knees in the nanosecond before he cranked out the rest of the sentence: “There’s an ice storm coming and everything’s going to shut down.”
In that instant where I imagined my toe-headed baby was waiting for the shooting to stop, all I could see was the scrim of blond curls that bobbed along on his toddler explorations. Not even his face, just that gold halo.
How many families last week answered calls and texts that didn’t resolve with the closure of the dining hall? (Including, in a shattering piece of journalism, a family that at first feared the Broward County Sheriff’s Department was calling about their child, only to have that replaced with the horror that in fact the call was about shooter Nik Cruz, who they had taken in at their son’s request.)
When my firstborn came home from kindergarten and told me his class had learned what to do if he was at a friend’s house and there were guns, I broke a little inside.
When I got a robo-call the next year reporting that a child had brought a gun to school and carried it into the lunchroom, I broke a little more.
The robo-call I got when a former student brought rifles – plural — to middle school? Broke, broke, broke.
Thinking, after the initial rush of fear, about the fact that we live in a moment where guns in a school triggers an automated voice message declaring that all of the right steps had been taken? Totally different kind of broken: Yes, school leaders and teachers and police had followed protocols, but how are we a culture where children try to fix things with guns – to which they have access?
The realization, while on a field trip with his younger brother, that 20 children and six adults had been gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary? We were at the downtown Macy’s Christmas display, where the educators I was chaperoning with were trying to figure out how to make the two fancy cookies they could afford stretch to six kids with disabilities, one of whom was soon to succumb to cancer.
The cookie issue I fixed with my debit card, but the moment’s small injustices just scored my heart’s surface for the crevasse that opened a moment later when news of Newtown hit.
We rode back to school in silence that day, the adults observing an unspoken pact not to make eye contact with one another so as not to shatter all the way. It was several years before I could bring myself to read Eli Saslow’s seminal “Into the Lonely Quiet,” which starts with a robo-call and ends in unfathomable breakage.
I’m sitting here tonight thinking, with optimism I haven’t felt in a long time, about the refusal of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to allow the adults to smooth the edges off of their outrage. To reframe their survivor-hood for them, to roll out all the well-intended becauses why they can’t fix gun violence in America.
How do we know they can’t change this? From what I could stand to read and watch in recent days, they possess the moral clarity we don’t — and a total unwillingness to be distracted from the fact that 17 of their number are dead and while you can say a lot of things about that, the bottom line is leaders they can’t yet vote for won’t act.
Meanwhile, the grownups are fighting through them. I’m already sick to death of the muddying of the agenda here – and not just by the GOP or the NRA. At a press conference last week releasing Education Minnesota’s “report” on teacher licensure, one of the speakers wondered out loud what would have happened if Parkland’s teachers hadn’t been graduates of a traditional teacher college.
Really? Where someone learned pedagogy and academic content has an impact on how well they adhere to the active shooter drills schools now run? Have we completely lost the ability to step away from our preconceptions for even a moment?
When was the last time we had consensus – even among self-styled progressives – over anything in education? We. Can’t. Even. Agree. How. To. Teach. Reading.
When was the last time our knee-jerk first reaction was not to start deconstructing proposals we suspect don’t adhere to our ideology, or might open the door to a suspect idea? When was the last time an audacious quest to make a sweeping change did not die on The Hill of Yes But?
The road to gun control might be impossibly hard. Or it might not, as in Australia. But what if people who don’t agree on much, and who have – and this is Minneapolis, circa 2018 – begun maligning other people because of their “associations” actually accomplished something together?
I mean, if we can make headway on guns in schools, we can make headway on third-grade literacy. And teacher training. And all of the other things our kids desperately need us to coalesce around.
So what say we resist the temptation to take over the marches and walk-outs being organized – or to “represent” — and agree instead just this once to line up behind our young people and simply march?
What do you think would happen if we tasted success together? Do you think success would beget success? How about we find out? It might just unbreak us, even just a little.