I don’t want to write about it; I don’t want to think about it…yet the pictures haunt me. Every parent holds dear images of watching little ones skip off to school or dropping the inert lump, our adolescents, at the gym door before practice. We have state of the art learning centers, sports fields, theaters and play grounds and yet, it is no longer safe for children to walk to school in America. Why?
I come from a family of teachers-my grandparents were teachers, my dad taught high school, my mom taught kindergarten in Sterling, my baby sister 1st grade in a Minneapolis suburb, my middle sister teaches in Yorkville, one French sister-in-law 2nd grade in a village school at Honfleur, the other in middle school in Rouen France. My son is in teacher training working with at-risk kids in St. Paul after school program. Many of my former students have gone onto to teaching careers around the world. Our belief in education as a birthright is as natural as the right to breathe.
I teach at the world’s oldest and largest international school in Geneva where I work in a global
community representing 138 nationalities and 84 mother tongues. My century old school, tucked on a slope of open fields and vineyards, offers an exquisite view of Lake Geneva surrounded by the snow-peaked Alps. I teach in a classroom without walls. No fence surrounds the property, no security guards patrol the campus, and no backpacks are inspected at the door. Yet daily, students from all races and religious affiliations -Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Mormon – sit down together to learn about one another’s beliefs and discuss ideas.
Everyday when I walk to school I gaze at the sun rising over the mountains with a prayer of gratitude on my lips that such a place still exists.
On Friday December 15, our last day of school before the break, we wore funny red, stocking caps, threw snowballs, sang together in an assembly. At lunch after the buses picked up the children, the teachers assembled in the cafeteria for our traditional holiday meal where I sat with my multicultural colleagues. When I came home and saw the news, I felt sick. And the more I learned about it, the worse I felt. Not even a week back after holidays, another boy opened fire for being bullied in Californian high school.
We are so quick to blame the others…the Arabs, the Africans, the immigrants, the Muslims, the Jews…but what happens when the evil comes from within our own? When a withdrawn, alienated, “mentally ill” Caucasian youth from a rich, peaceful neighborhood turns on his mother and community?
Perhaps I live in an unrealistic bubble; one difference. of course, is the affluence of my international community. Yet the young man who went berserk and gunned down children in Sandy Hook Elementary came from a wealthy area. He learned how to use weapons “safely.”
I work with bright, at times alienated youth; special kids who are sometimes fragile, bullied, teased and isolated because of their differences, falling under a plethora of labels- ADHD, dyslexic, Aspergers. I feel for these kids. At what point do societies’ victims snap and become the perpetrators?
Each time another school shooting occurs in America, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, teachers worldwide are dumbfounded and left reeling from disbelief. From Honfleur to Rouen to Geneva to Chicago to Minneapolis to Sterling, we believe wholeheartedly in the freedom of education. Where are we going wrong?
While my American counterparts learn take-down techniques, drill for lock down and debate carrying guns for self-protection in the classroom, I wonder how long it will be before we will adopt the same policies? How can carrying a weapon in school for self-defense make anyone in society feel safer?