Yesterday afternoon, the Superintendent of our district, Dr. Todd Koehl, sent out an email to the staff and to the Board in which he tries to make sense of the Sandy Hook Incident. It’s worthy of sharing with others because it touches on some fundamental truths about our school system and perhaps why the damage caused by this incident (and ones like this) can be felt across the US.
This is a sad day. A young man, mad at the world, walks into his mother’s school, shoots several students students, the principal, teachers and staff, and then kills himself. There is no real sense in this.
We could debate a variety of issues with this killing spree, but none of the debatable issues is as basic as the fact that the killer was most likely known to the staff who man the door and welcomed in. A school is a safe place where people are known. A school operates on the basis community, partnerships, possibilities. A school is the one place where when your innocence is destroyed, you can go to revel in it, even if it is for the sole purpose of destroying it for someone else so that they suffer the way you have.
I believe that it is the betrayal of this basic innocence, manifested in trust, hope, promise, that spurs the kind of destruction and tragedy that happened today at Sandy Hook Elementary. Something went terribly wrong for this young man and his anger and despair overcame his sense of right and he acted in the way that settled his internal conflict with the loss of innocence.
This person’s mom may have worked anywhere so this could have happened anywhere. But, it didn’t. It happened in a place built on hope and promise and operating in trust and respect. Schools have a uniqueness about them that resonates with all of us. They have a certain smell, a certain order, a certain comfort. Hardly anyone can walk into a school and not drop into the kind of routine inherent to the system. In essence, for a great number of Americans, school is the blueprint of our childhood: books, desks, breaks, summers, teachers, recess, buses all hung on a specific framework upon which we grew up and from which we detached ourselves at the right time. For the most part, we all share this common experience. In this sense, schools are ubiquitous.
As teachers we return to school for the order, the framework, the innocence. This is at the core of our decision to teach. We can read the blueprint of the framework and help others to learn to embed it and then leave it. We protect, nurture, and grow the innocence. Throw aside all of the negative press that has dominated teaching in the last year and get back to the basic reason that you, we chose the profession: we love school. We love, the smell, the order, the comfort. We love the trust, the hope, the promise inherent in each day. The tragedy of this day is that someone stepped into that world seeking justice for something lost by robbing others of it. There is a certain parallelism to this, but not real sense.
Tonight I encourage you all to think about school and what it means to you. I have been in school almost my whole life since I was 5, and I have never been through a time when schools were so much at the front of so much controversy. Today’s event, however, has shed some light on the issues surrounding our schools. We hold something that others have lost and are seeking to redeem: trust, hope, promise, and innocence. Let’s find a way to share this with our families, friends, and community so that we never share the darker history of Sandy Hook.