Cover Story: “Threshold”
On December 14th, I helped chaperone my daughter’s second-grade-class field trip to a local production of “The Nutcracker,” where I spent most of my time not watching the ballet but marvelling at the calm efforts of the teacher to keep the yelling, excited class quieted down. Teaching was not, I concluded at one point, a profession in which I could survive for even one day. Our buses came back to the school at midafternoon, and I and the other volunteer parents left our children for another hour of wind-down time (for us, not them) before returning for the regular 3-P.M. pickup. I came home, however, not to any wind-down but to the unfolding coverage of the Newtown shooting. Shaken to the core, I returned to the school, where a grim quiet bound myself and the other parents together, the literally unspeakable news sealing our smiles while, at a lower strata, our happy, screaming children ran out of the building into our arms still frothed up by sparkling visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
In the course of the next few days, I was privy to the exchanges among my wife and her colleagues about Newtown, culminating in flabbergasted e-mails and Facebookings following the farcical N.R.A. press conference. Memes abounded, like, “First they call us union thugs and now they want to arm us?!” and self-mocking jokes about their own forgetfulness: “Do you really want to trust people like us with guns?” (Teachers are notoriously overworked and so occasionally forget their two pounds’ worth of keys in one classroom or another.) What astonished me most was that the gun lobby seemed to imply that it was somehow partly the unarmed teachers’ fault that the Newtown shooting occurred at all. Well, why not? Isn’t everything lately always somehow the teachers’ fault?
Meanwhile, our government revved its engines to Evel-Knievel itself over the fiscal cliff, civilization’s rock face having partly crumbled away because a clot of representatives seem to feel that government shouldn’t be funded at all. Over the holiday break, news arrived that thirty-seven Philadelphia public schools were closing because of budgetary cuts, and meanwhile the whole idea of public education continues to be cored out nationwide by taxpayer-funded private “charter” schools in a sleight of hand that I still can’t believe is legal. (Meanwhile, my union-thug wife is too busy grading papers and planning lessons to be able to get properly mad about it all.)
In September, I pictured, more or less, my daughter’s teacher and her class on a “back to school” cover (click to expand) that jokingly pointed to the free time that parents would have now that their kids were back in class; it was something I saw every morning, and I thought it would make a sort of funny picture. In the wake of Newtown, it didn’t seem so funny anymore. As parents and citizens, we entrust our children not only to the safety of schools but also to the nurturing and cultivated environment of schools and teachers. Education is the very foundation of civilization and cannot be undermined or undersold. That we now have to somehow consider an unchecked population of firearms as part of this equation seems absolutely ludicrous and terrifying.