I try to write clearly, because I understand that words matter.
In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy at Newtown, I posted dozens of statements from readers expressing their sorrow and shock and sympathy.
I wrote a tribute to the principal for her valor as an educator and a courageous person devoted to her students.
The next day, as I learned more about the other five members of the staff who died that day, I wrote a tribute to them, called “Hero Teachers of Newtown.” I expressed my hope that what happened in Newtown would quiet those who had been saying that unions and tenure were bad, since the teachers belonged to a union and some had tenure.
This statement led to a barrage of complaints that I had “politicized” the tragedy by referring to the fact that the staff at Newtown belonged to a union. Some said I insulted teachers who don’t belong to unions, which frankly was far-fetched. The outrage began with a tweet from a VP at Teach for America, who demanded that i retract the post. He probably thought I was criticizing TFA. I was not. The post did not mention TFA. (A number of TFA alums contacted me to let me know they did not agree with the VP.)
Critics claimed in some comments and posts on other blogs that anyone who tried to draw a lesson from the tragedy was politicizing it.
This is bizarre.
We now are having a national conversation about gun control and mental health. People are rightly asking how to change the laws to keep assault weapons out of the hands of non-law enforcement personnel. Others are wondering what might be done to intervene to help those with mental problems. Some ask how schools might be made more secure to protect them from deranged intruders.
They are trying to draw lessons from what happened. They are not politicizing the tragedy. They are trying to learn from it.
Teachers, at least all those I know, have reacted with sorrow for the children and their colleagues. Some have said that they felt proud to be a teacher because now the public understands that they are first responders to the needs of their students and their communities. Let’s hope the public doesn’t forget.
No one has said that only union teachers would react as the teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School did. Certainly I did not. I believe that those who teach are committed to help, educate, and protect children; that’s an essential part of their job.
The point I was making is that it is time to stop the attacks on teachers and on our public schools. This is not the time or place to document the frequency and inaccuracy of these attacks, though I promise to do so in the future. The narrative of “bad teachers” has been hurtful and demoralizing to many teachers.
It is time to respect teachers and the teaching profession.
It is time to grieve for the children and their educators.
And, yes, I hope we learn and draw lessons from this tragedy.