Students in Newtown, Connecticut only recently returned to school for the first time since the December 14 shooting, as did students all over the country after Christmas breaks. This horrific event has once again prompted ongoing, nationwide conversations about schools, gun violence, and American society. No school or community has been untouched.
In the days immediately after the shooting, New York radio station WNYC interviewed local parents about what they were saying to their children. I was struck by the comments of Matthew Booker of Brownsville, Brooklyn:
Lifelong resident Matthew Booker agreed that he has no choice but to discuss the possibility of violence with his four and 11 year-old daughters. He said the Newtown shooting was only the most recent reminder.
“They hear the gunfire where they live at all the time so it’s a constant topic — especially out here in Brownsville,” he said. “A constant topic. I mean we’re walking to the store and I teach my kids to be alert. They ask me why I watch everything so much and I had to let them know you need to watch everything because at a moment’s notice you may have to run, duck or just get in the defensive posture.”
Booker said it’s getting harder reassure his children that they’ll be safe. His 11 year old already knows two kids who have been shot.
And last week, the front page of the January 2 New York Times featured the photo of a young man in Chicago named Anton Watson. He was at a peace vigil against gun violence and held up a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t Shoot. I Want to Grow Up.” The accompanying article described shootings in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods where, the article noted, “Mothers spoke of keeping their children inside from the moment school ended.”
Most of us and our students will never have to face a Newtown. Schools remain overwhelmingly safe places. And most of us will not have to keep our children inside because we fear they may be shot or teach them how to duck down in the local deli or grocery store.
But what about the children who do? What about the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut, and the other American schools, families, and communities forever shattered by a mass shooting? What about Matthew Booker ‘s four-year old daughter Maikaiah, who already knows the sound of gun shots; Anton Watson, who wonders if he will live long enough to grow up; and the hundreds or thousands of children stuck indoors after school, unable to play sports, go to dancing lessons, or be in the school play because it’s just too dangerous to go outside?
As Episcopal school educators we must continue to do all we can to make schools safe and build strong bonds of community and caring in our own schools. But can we do something more? Can we help all parents, students, and community leaders to grapple together with the deep-seated and vexing complexities of gun violence and young people?
I don’t know what this might look like. But I wonder how we can use the power and voice of education, particularly Episcopal education, to work on behalf of all God’s children and move forward together not in fear but with faith that, through love and common purpose, the world can, indeed, be transformed.