By Janet Ralph
The tragic events in Newtown, Conn., have had a sobering effect on all of us. Like many others, it has caused me to ask what is happening in our great country that seems to be accelerating the frequency and horror of such events.
We look for obvious answers and quick solutions. There are too many weapons and the wrong kinds of weapons are too readily available. There are troubled people who need mental health attention. We have a culture of violence. All of these deserve our attention. It is time for a national conversation about what we need to change and how to best go about making those changes.
This is all good. In some ways having this come up in a season when we are focused on love and peace and kindness is not a bad thing. I know my own feelings have been tempered. As much as I love to celebrate Christmas, I know this was intended to be much more than a brief celebration. It is supposed to show us a way of life. I have been forced to ask how we carry the message of this holiday season into a new year.
As I reflected and meditated on all of this, it occurred to me that, while all of the above issues need our attention, perhaps we are overlooking the most important discussion. In a world where in some ways we are more connected than ever by technology, are we at risk of destroying the institutions that draw us together and help us develop interpersonal relationships? Have we depersonalized too much?
Those who know me well will not be surprised that my attention quickly turned to schools and education. Much of the current conversation around pending legislation is about breaking down traditional schools. Our governor says “any time, any place, any way, at any pace.” There is merit in this thinking. We can reconsider how we deliver education to students. But we need to do it thoughtfully because some of the ideas that are being discussed will eventually destroy public education as we know it.
Our schools provide more than facts and information. As I reflect on my own education, I realize that I have forgotten much of what seemed important at the time. I spent many hours memorizing facts, but it is clear to me today that the most important thing was the relationships I formed. Some of my most cherished friendships today are from my school days. It was first in my family and then in my church, in my schools and in the other organizations of which I was a part that I learned about being a contributing member of something bigger than me. If we are sincere about improving our society, we must be serious about strengthening and preserving these institutions. Often the people who are responsible for these horrible acts are loners, not connected to or engaged in a community.
We must seriously question the wisdom of breaking down community schools. We must question the wisdom of isolating students by expecting them to learn only online in “schools” designed to make a profit. We must ask why we cannot make all schools strong. We must support educators who, as demonstrated in Newtown, are ready to give even their lives for their students.
In 2013, I pray we will give serious thought to ways to build up rather than destroy the institutions that make us better human beings and our country a better place for all of us to live. If we really want to honor the memory of those who died in Newtown, let us not squander this opportunity.
Communicate your opinions to your representatives in Lansing and make sure decisions are about what is best for all children and young people work where you live to strengthen the things that have made this country great and that can keep us strong.
Janet Ralph is the president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.
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