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Hollow Tears

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The new year is but 47 days old and, in that time, there have been multiple school shootings in the United States. The most recent slaughter occurred on Valentine’s Day at a Florida high school. Students and staff were tricked by the shooter into responding to a fire alarm and then senselessly sprayed with bullets as they streamed into the hallways. Seventeen young lives were extinguished in mere moments. The lives of far more were assaulted and altered for eternity.

Condolences have been sent. Candlelight vigils have been planned. Memorials will be temporarily erected, and flowers will be strewn all around them.

And nothing will change.

The cries for change pour from the strained vocal cords of victim families and members of the law enforcement community and members of the education world. These are shouted down by those who want the status quo untouched, unchanged, unchallenged.

We are told to wait. Now is not the time to make any “rash” decisions. Now is the time to grieve and to share in the pain and suffering of the victims and their communities.

How long must we wait?

Nineteen years have passed since the mass shooting at Columbine High School. Twelve students and one teacher were murdered during that senseless attack.

I was teaching fifth grade at the time. As a new father, all I could think was, “What kind of world are my child and the children in my classroom - little people I am expected, and willing, to protect - going to enter?

I now know.

Five years have passed since the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty little kids, only six and seven years old, were killed along with six staff members.

I was an assistant principal at the time. There were two sixth graders sitting before me in my office, sent for roughhousing in the classroom. As I debated their consequences, I glanced at my computer screen and saw a bulletin informing us of the situation in Newtown, Connecticut. A sick feeling engulfed me. I remember turning to the two boys before me and uttering, “This is ridiculous.” I’m sure the boys thought I was speaking of their situation - which, to an extent, I was. They had no idea of the real reason as I sent them back to class.

And here we are, finishing the seventh week of a new year, sickened by the blood dripping from lifeless corpses upon gurneys rolling toward grieving families in a school parking lot. We are shocked, perhaps a little less so than in earlier times, and we are ready for the calm to settle upon us. The candles will have melted, the flowers will have wilted and the bodies will have been placed into the ground.

We will ask, “Is it the right time to talk about change, now?” And we will again be told that we are overreacting and that we do not understand the complexity of the process. Things like this take time.

We must address the whole problem, not simply the factors that special interest groups want us to discuss. Frankly, we, as a nation, need to re-evaluate our opinion regarding children. They are not our number one priority with regard to health care (including mental health care), education, economic stability or behavioral rehabilitation.

If we are simply willing to ignore the welfare of our nation’s children, then please forget the cheap condolences, the sterile memorials and the hollow tears when they are removed from our lives forever by the bullets of an assassin.

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.

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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in six Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received several first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Sunday, 24 June 2018