Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sandy Hook: Celebrating Lives in the Midst of Death

As my husband and I were reading about and processing the news from Newtown, Connecticut my husband pointed me to Dawn Hochsprung’s twitter feed. “People should read that,” he said. I kind of shrugged. I am quite an active user but after reading this 2011 New York Times article I have mixed feelings about social media and what happens with it when we die. Even though twitter feeds are (mostly) public, I feel as if I am vaguely invading someone’s privacy when I look at the feeds of the living, let alone the deceased. But still, I looked.

This was the tweet that really got to me:

Just that Thursday night, my sons had performed in their 4th grade winter concert at the public elementary school that serves our community, also a small town in a rural area, also wearing white tops and black pants. The theme was "December Around the World." I was expecting it to be Christmas- and Santa-carol centric, but it wasn't at all. It was actually, well, international, and the Hannukah story wasn't the usual sanitized version.

While his siblings do, one of my sons doesn't like music class that much. He enjoys listening to music and playing instruments but he doesn't like singing, dancing and performing--he's much more of a visual artist. As he complained more and more about “play practice,” my husband and I empathized with him, but kept telling him what a great experience it was to practice a group of songs and put together a show and to perform it. We reminded him that being exposed to many subjects and experiences was part of elementary school and part of being a well-educated individual. These are the moments when my husband and I tell our children that it's important to do things they don't enjoy all that much, that they serve a greater educational purpose (versus doing test prep worksheets). As he got older, we explained he could dedicate more time to his specific interests, but that all of these broader, more various earlier exposures would help him to figure out what those interests might be. As I watched him the night of the performance, I knew he wasn’t enjoying himself, but I was so proud of him singing and dancing and doing his best all the same.

My husband, like me an education blogger and critic of Obama and Bush administration education policies, felt that people should look at these pictures, at her tweets, to see what Dawn Hochsprung actually did besides giving her life in attempts to stop Adam Lanza, and what it is to be an educator in an elementary school. Her life and the lives of the educators who died alongside her may have been epitomized by their last minutes, but that’s not all they comprised. So I felt like, yes, he's right, it does (unfortunately via a terrible tragedy) shine a light on what schools are to communities and on what many educators do every single day.

And just as the all of the educators who died that day behaved heroically, many of the "small" things that educators do are heroic, too. There is heroism in staying late in the evening to put on the 4th grade winter concert, so that a group of kids, some belting it out happy as can be and some more reluctant can feel what it is to rehearse and perform a body of songs. There is heroism in getting a reluctant and stage frightened kid to sing and dance for an audience as if he weren't. There is heroism in sharing the joy of music as your parents and community watch and maybe sing along together at the end. 

The Sandy Hook  teachers may be heroes to the nation in their deaths, but they were also heroes in their community in life.

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