The lives of many of my students are filled with uncertainty. Uncertainty about where they'll be living next month, or next week, or even tomorrow. Uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. Sounds tough right? Sounds like no one should ever have to grow up in a situation like that, right? Is it any wonder that I spend my days working to help these students develop a future beyond those circumstances? You might feel sad right now, maybe you can sympathize, maybe you can even relate. Or maybe you're one of the people that assumes that my students will be the ones to "leach off of the system." Maybe you stand in judgement of children who did not choose that life. You are entitled to your own opinion, as always, but I hope that you can take a moment to feel something for those who have to begin life with a deficit.
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it has been difficult not to give into the desire to weep at the injustice of it all. As an educator, I look at the stories of Victoria Soto, Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach and I feel a thread connecting me with these women, and with every other educator who would do literally anything for their students. I feel gratitude toward them, not only for saving the lives of many students, but for showing the world that the good in people really does exist. Their sacrifices will live on in every teacher that goes to school tomorrow morning, and in every student who feels comforted by the fact that their teachers have their backs. I grieve with the rest of the nation for these women, and for the innocent children that lost their lives on a day that began like any other day.
As someone who spends every day with students who are emotionally disturbed, however, it is hard for me to look at Adam Lanza and not feel some sympathy for him as well. Crucify me if you must, I'm sure there are readers who will jump all over this, but Adam Lanza was a boy who needed help that he obviously wasn't receiving. I was reading "I am Adam Lanza's Mother", which is the story of a mother with an emotionally disturbed son, and I was moved by her honesty. It is the side of the story that many don't see, and regardless of your initial opinion, you should all read it.
I was horrified by one of the comments, which read "If he wants to kill himself, let him." At which point do we decide that a child is a lost cause? Seven? Eight? The first time he or she has an outburst? Do we do as that reader suggested and allow them to kill themselves? As a parent, should we give our child up to the state, or allow them to be charged with a trivial crime just to get them help? These are issues that my students' parents and guardians deal with every day. I have students whose parents did give them away, and trust me, that only made their issues worse. Do we breathe a sigh of relief when a child is murdered in the streets because at least we don't have to worry about them anymore?
Let's take this time of mourning and use it to have an honest discussion about the options for those who have these problems. Let's make it okay to ask for help. Let's do our best to cut down on the bullying in schools that makes students afraid to ask for that help for fear of embarrassment. If the things that I have written here have shocked you, good. If you feel anger or confusion or torn, good. At least you're still here to do something about it. At least the students at my school still have a shot because they are in a place where the staff is working every day to understand them. Think though, about the children like Adam Lanza, who fall through the cracks. What if someone had fought for him when he was eleven, or twelve, or whenever he first started showing signs of illness? One of the people who knew him growing up was quoted as saying that he was "odd" when he was as young as five. Five! We'll never know, but we as a society can do something to help the others like him.