Columbine happened when I was in middle school. I know what my students are going through. I understand the fear. I felt that deep knot in the pit of my stomach that assured me nothing would ever be the same. It is a feeling I have become quite familiar with.
I am a cop’s daughter. I know that isn’t saying much. Many police officers do all that they can to shelter their own children from the evils they see on a daily basis. My father believed in exposing me to the real world. He felt that ignorance often led to victimization. From a very young age, I was aware that the world could be a very dark and cruel place.
For the most part, I am thankful to my father. He raised me right. One cannot truly be good or do good if one is not aware of evil. This is a fact that most of our society wishes to ignore. We have a tendency to sweep bad things under the rug, to remain blissfully unaware of them until tragedy forces our eyes upon them. And then, instead of asking what we might do to prevent such things, we ask who we can blame. Too often we cast responsibility far from us so that as soon as the tragedy’s pain dulls and the memory fades, we can go back to our willful, blissful ignorance.
Why do we do this? We do it because knowledge bears responsibility. If we acknowledge evil, then we have a responsibility to do something about it. For those who have taken that step, it is a heavy burden made all the worse by society’s woeful, willful ignorance. There are those of us who have accepted that the world can be dark and cruel, that there is evil among us. For those who wish to fight for a better world, who strive for light and love and goodness, there is a long and lonely road ahead. It is for this reason that law enforcement has such a high suicide rate, that teachers have such a high burnout rate and that our armed forces so often pay the heavy price of PTSD.
I was in law enforcement for a while. I loved it. It was a tough profession, scarring, worthwhile. The problem was that I was arresting the second generation of lost souls. My father had arrested the first generation. He had known those that I was arresting when they were young and hopeful and still good. Now I was taking them to jail as broken people who chose bad because there seemed no other way for them. The worst part was that I saw a third generation, my son’s age, young and full of promise. Deep in the pit of my stomach, I knew that as a cop there was little I could do for them, to show them that promise, to let them know that they had a choice, that they did not have to become their parents.
Once I acknowledged these potentially lost souls, I could not remain in the profession I loved. I had to do something for these children. So I became a teacher. As a cop, one expects to be hated. I knew from the get-go that I would be blamed for the crime and the darkness and the cruelty in the world. I expected to hear that I was not doing enough. I did not expect this as a teacher.
I was blindsided by the loneliness I felt as a teacher. I shouldn’t have been. I have known that society likes to find blame rather than accept responsibility. I shouldn’t have been blindsided by the congressmen who accuse me of being greedy. By the parents who accuse me of not doing enough (all the while doing very little themselves, often even refusing to parent their own children). By a society that undervalues their future and wishes for it to not burden their wallet.
Yesterday I wondered quietly, during a staff meeting detailing the latest test to come out–a test that much money had been spent developing. It struck me how willing society is to pour money into a test, rather than into students’ education. What I wondered was how long I would last before resentment set in. It would be easier if I didn’t care about my students. If I didn’t want the best for my students, then society’s apathy and blindness wouldn’t hurt so much. But I care deeply about my students.
I tell my students every day that I love them. And I mean it. I worry, ponder, toil and cry over them. I celebrate their victories, and I mourn their losses. They are my burden–the promise in this world, and I will do everything in my power to show them that this world holds more than cruelty and darkness. I tell my students that I love them and it breaks my heart to know that it is the only time many of them will hear those words.
Until we take the blinders off and quit pointing our fingers; until we accept responsibility, each and every one of us accepts it, we will continue to be a broken society. Until everyone says, “what can I do?” we will continue to live in a dark world where broken people kill the innocent and where tragedy is always a heartbeat away. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.