An American Remembrance

April 20th, 2011 § 0 comments

On April 20th, when I was a junior in high school, I got out of my last class early, and I drove down the street to go visit my elementary school. I was standing in the classroom with my eighth-grade US History teacher talking about college and beyond, and  getting my teaching certificate. Then my old math teacher walked in with this stunned look on his face. We were two hours ahead of Colorado time, and the news was just starting to reach us on the east coast of what had happened an hour before–two student gunmen had opened fire on their classmates in a high school in Littleton, Colorado.

I was old enough and sure enough of my path to becoming an educator that I identified with the shock and pain on my teachers’ faces; I was young enough and wrapped up enough in what at times seemed to be the insurmountable trials of adolescence that I could almost understand why kids my own age might be driven to do such a thing.

The face of American education changed that day. Students became people to fear. Teachers in almost every grade started having to look at the troubled kid not as someone to help, but as someone who might need to be put behind bars. And yet, in the face of that, many also stepped back and said, “Where are we failing?” Ther didn’t ask “How did we manage to let two kids get in here with guns?” but instead “How did we manage to let two kids get so lost that they felt they needed them?”  They said they weren’t going to walk away because there might be a Dylan or an Eric, but that they were going to teach so that the Dylans and Erics would never feel driven to do such a thing.

I’m not teaching the level I thought I would be teaching–in college, I fell in love with a subject that isn’t taught in high schools, and so I’m training to teach undergraduates. But as far as I’m concerned, the way to honor every life lost on this day in 1999 is to teach–with passion, with dedication, with empathy. Whenever I mark this day, I always think about standing there in the best possible place I could’ve gotten that news–in a classroom where I had felt nurtured and encouraged, and with two of my teachers.

The piece linked here, “An American Elegy” is written by Frank Ticheli, one of the best composers for modern American concert band, and I had the privelege of performing it in college. It was written as an elegy for all the lives lost at Columbine. The trumpet solo at 7:32 is traditionally performed out of sight of the audience–either in a balcony over their heads or behind a door, and it is meant to stand for the voices of the students and teacher who lost their lives that day. I write to it often. It’s moving, and glorious, and all the things a remembrance should be.

Take a second and listen. And remember.

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