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SHORT STORY


TITLE: Save Our Children 1/20/2012
By Frankie Kemp
01/20/13
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My target audience for this piece would be anyone who is concerned about education and what happens in the local school district--specifically in light of current events. I am looking for critiques and some ideas of where to submit this for publication. I am new to this writing for publication "thing," so I need direction.
Concerned Mother sat behind the wheel just a minute longer. She gathered her purse and looked inside to make sure the notes from last night’s meeting, the ones she had scoured several times that morning, were tucked safely inside. She exhaled deeply and accepted in her mind once again the mission the other mothers had elected to bestow upon her. She was to be their voice. She had to make the Superintendent hear. It was their babies on the line—all of them from ages five to eighteen. Someone had to speak for them. She had been elected. Now she was here to do just that. She opened the door of her parked mini van, glided purposefully out, and hit the lock button twice, hearing the familiar beep that told her all was safe and secure. She walked up the sidewalk to the Administration Building at the Local School District.

“Good morning, it is not often that I get a visit from a parent representative. I’m so glad you’re here. Parental input is a valuable part of the educational process,” the Superintendent greeted her.

“Good morning, Mr. Superintendent, I am glad that you had time to see me on such short notice. I have to tell you that I am on a mission of great importance,” she replied after the customary handshake across his wide desk and as she seated herself in the chair waiting for her there. She sat down but did not relax back into the cushions. She stayed perched on the edge with her hands folded neatly in her lap.

Mr. Superintendent smiled, “Every mother’s mission is of the highest importance. That’s the attitude we try to keep here at The Local School District.”

“Most of the time I am sure that is the case, but please understand that after all the recent events and after so many other things that we see happening with young people today there is a group of us mothers who are very concerned. We are frightened for our children.”

“I understand.”

“We want to know exactly what you are doing in this school system to keep them safe, and we want to know exactly what you are doing to teach them how to live productive lives in this world the way it is. We want to know that you know how valuable every single one of them is to us,” she began to ramble, even though she had practiced her speech so that rambling was NOT what she would do. “We want to be heard, Mr. Superintendent. We want to be heard, and we want to know that it is safe to send our children to this school.”

“I understand. I have children of my own here,” he replied.

“A group of us met together last night and came up with a list of concerns we would like you to address.”

“Certainly. I will do the best I can to answer your concerns,” he said leaning forward and propping his arms across the empty space between stacks of unfinished paperwork on his desk.

“First off, we want to know if you are doing everything possible to secure the campus from outside threats.”

“We are, but I have to be honest with you, changing the campus environment isn’t something that can be done as quickly as you might think. We are locking doors that we’ve normally kept open for ease of student access, and we have asked for more local security officers on campus, but re-training students and staff to navigate a locked down campus is not an easy task. Also, making a school a fortress costs a lot of money, and we haven’t yet finished our latest building project.”

“So you are saying that the new building is more important than the life of my child?”

“Oh, no. Absolutely not. Definitely not.”

“What are you doing, then, to protect the life of my child? How can I be certain that what happened at Sandy Hook won’t happen here at the Local School District?”

“Well, Ma’am, I . . .” he fumbled for a moment and then sighed and leaned back away from his desk and into his chair. “I suppose we could build twenty foot rock walls topped with barbed wire and protected by armed guards all around campus. We could install state of the art video surveillance at every entrance point and pay someone to watch the video feed during the hours we have students on campus. We could train and arm our teachers to fend off a violent attack. That sure sounds more like prison than school, though.”

“Are you mocking me, Mr. Superintendent?”

“No ma’am, please . . . no, I’m not. I’m just as frustrated with the situation as you are. What would the parents like to see us do?”

“Well, there were lots of ideas, but we weren’t really able to come together with one solid suggestion. Truthfully, when we discussed it, we didn’t really have a plan. We just wanted to make sure that you do. We want to know that you know that when we drop our children off here every day, we are entrusting our most valuable possessions to you—to you. We can’t be here to protect them. We want to make sure you are doing it for us.”

“We’re trying, Ma’am. We really are trying. Do you think some of the parents would be willing to work on a committee to come up with a plan for increasing campus security? Would there be some willing to donate their time and their resources, if necessary, to accomplish our common goal? Would they be willing to give up a lot of the freedom they’ve had to come and go on campus quickly and easily to keep the kids safer?”

“Yes, Mr. Superintendent, I do. We live in a wonderful community with many parents who already devote a lot of their time and resources to this school. When we all work together for the same thing, we usually get a lot accomplished.”

“Good. Very good. We’ll hold a community meeting and get started on it as soon as possible. Will you pass that word on to the parents?”

“I will, Mr. Superintendent. I will, but, Sir, I have other concerns to share with you this morning.”

“Oh, certainly. Please share away.”

“Well, if we are going to send our children to this school, we want to know that risking their lives to do it is worth it.”

“I’m not so sure I understand what you mean.”

“What are they learning here that is worth their lives? They are exposed to so many things when we send them here. They are exposed to everything from head lice to the flu to dozens of outrageous behaviors and ideas. Sometimes they are even in danger of being bullied by their peers or by their teachers. Do you know that my son came home telling me that one of your teachers singled out a boy in his class who does not even have running water at his house and told him that if he did not learn to take a shower before coming to school, he would never have any friends?”

“I . . .”

“That boy probably did not go home and tell his mother about it because that boy may or may not even have a mother at home who would be willing to come to school and confront the teacher.”

“I . . .”

“Do you know that one of my friends who is the mother of a middle schooler found pictures on her son’s phone of one of the girls in his class that were sexual in nature? Do you know that the picture was taken in the bathroom at school and was sent during the school day?”

“I . . .”

“Do you know that another of my friends told me that her daughter told her that there are students in the high school who are actually selling marijuana in between classes?”

“I . . .”

“Do you know that at a school down the road a high school teacher was fired and thrown in jail because she had developed a relationship with one of her students via social networking?”

“I . . .”

“Do you know that my own son can’t tell me what he learned at school on most days, but he can tell me all the things certain students and certain teachers said and did that definitely doesn’t point to any kind of academic learning going on at all?”

“I . . .”

“Do you know that I cannot convince my son that studying is a worthwhile endeavor because he doesn’t see a purpose in it—and my son is brilliant. Do you know that most of our children are much more interested in music, and the internet, and sports, and the constant amusement of themselves than they are about learning or doing anything to better the world we live in?”

“I . . .”

“Do you know that many of us mothers are very concerned about the values being instilled in our children during the hours they are in your school system? What ARE you doing with our children, Mr. Superintendent?”

“I . . .,” Mr. Superintendent waited to be interrupted again by the very serious questions of a mother who was obviously sincere in her asking. When she sat back in her chair and sighed, imploring him to answer, her searching eyes and tilted head a picture of her earnestness, he knew it was time to formulate a response. “We are trying, Ma’am. We are trying. There are so many demands upon educators today. The general public thinks all we do is show up and teach. There is so much more to it than that.”

“We mothers acknowledge that. We do. Some of those who met with us last night are actually former teachers. But, sincerely, Mr. Superintendent, isn’t it a school’s place to accept the challenges of meeting the demands of education?”

Before replying, Mr. Superintendent pondered a few seconds, searching for an answer that would appease not only Concerned Mother but also himself. He lived with that question every day. Yes, he did, but he had never been so confronted with it by a mother as passionate in her pleading.

“It is. Yes, it is. Instead of answering your question, might you permit me to ask one of you?”

“Certainly.”

“What would you like to see us do differently? What are some things you want from us that we aren’t doing?”

Concerned Mother was surprised to be met this way. She was ready for a list of excuses—not an invitation to participate in the solution. She nodded and reached quietly into her mind for a moment to find that place that told her exactly what it was that she wanted from her Local School District.

“We want you to value our children. We want you to see them as we do, unique and precious and worth your time. We want you to take the time to help them discover who they are and how to learn and grow and how to be good people and live productive lives in today’s world. We want you to respect their worth, but we also want you to teach them to respect and value other people. We want you to help us keep our children safe from a world gone mad. We want to know that who they become matters to you as much as it matters to us.”

“How can I assure you, Ma’am, that what you have just told me already is the driving philosophy of this District? That most of us here feel exactly the way you do?”

“Well, to be honest, Mr. Superintendent. I am prepared to address this question. Most of us mothers agree this is the first place to start. It starts with hiring better teachers.”

“Okay. I agree with you. I agree that a good teacher is a very crucial ingredient in the educational process. Now, may I ask you what you perceive to be the perfect teacher or at least the kind of teacher we should be looking for or asking our current teachers to be?”

“Well, obviously, we will agree that the teacher has to know their subject, so I’m not even going to address that. That one, to me, is a no-brainer. If the teacher does not know what they are teaching, they shouldn’t be in the classroom.”

“Agreed.”

“Surely every teacher you have hired has proven their knowledge of their subject matter.”

“Well, yes, they have to be licensed by the state. But you know something? I think the best teachers are willing to admit that they don’t know everything and that learning is really about knowing how to find the answers to what they don’t know and teaching kids the same.”

“Yes, that is true, but I think the best teachers know what the answers to the questions are before they ask them.”

Mr. Superintendent nodded. “What else makes the ‘best’ teacher?”

“The best teacher has to care about the students. They must, even, unconditionally love their students and be intrinsically motivated to do what is best for every child in every situation.” Mr. Superintendent nodded again. “They need to make school a good place to be. They need to like their jobs and what they do and be excited about it. They must be patient and kind and forgiving, but they must also know our children and push them to be the best they can be in every area of their lives. They need to want and hope for as much from our children as we do. They must notice who are children are and know what it will take to inspire and motivate them. They must care about their students more than they care about their own comforts. I guess, Mr. Superintendent, what we are asking is that your teachers take our place when we leave our children in your care.”

“I see.”

“And . . . I guess I am asking that you hire people who are worthy of the job and who will willingly take that burden upon themselves.”

“Yes, and you want me to find people who are willing to do that for with anywhere from fifteen to thirty kids every hour every day for nine months out of the year. They must have a college education, they must settle for a lower salary than most professionals in the work force with equal qualifications, they must also agree to ‘further assigned duties’ on their contracts like sponsoring clubs and chaperoning dances, they must keep up with all the paperwork that measures and communicates what they do day in and day out, they must be morally upstanding—based upon what the community defines as morally upstanding, they must be concerned for and aware of every child’s physical safety and overall well being. They must teach your children not only subject matter but also how to be productive citizens, and they must do this day in and day out with little acknowledgement or encouragement from the students who are the exact objects of their duty and devotion. And . . .they must do this with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts?”

“Are you being sarcastic, Mr. Superintendent?”

“No, Ma’am. I don’t mean to be. I’m being realistic. Where do you expect me to find an entire staff of people like that?”

“Well . . .”

“Think back to your days in school. Was that the picture of every teacher you ever had?”

“Well, no, it wasn’t. But I had good ones, and there are good ones here.”

“Yes, Ma’am. There are good ones here, and we want to keep them and use them, even, to inspire others who have lost their passion—but finding them and keeping them is not so easy in today’s day and age. Think about it, Ma’am. Do you realize what you have asked for from a teacher?”

Concerned Mother did not answer. She sat silently absorbing the reality of her expectations. When she did not respond, Mr. Superintendent continued for her, “You have asked them to do their jobs. You have asked for the same things from our teachers that parents are asking from themselves. We want to save our children. We want to protect them and nurture them and watch them grow and become better people than we are.” He leaned back in his chair and sighed, “And the state has imparted this mission—mandated it even--upon the Local School District. Then, they expect me to do it without depending upon the only power in the universe that is capable of fulfilling it, God Himself. Ma’am, I assure you, there are teachers who come close to what you described in this district. I promise you, they are here, but if you expect them to fulfill all that you have asked, I mean if you really and truly expect them to love and see every single child in their care, you must be willing to accept what goes with that.”

“And what is that, Mr. Superintendent?”

“They’re going to end up telling your child about Jesus. They will find a way to do it, and they will. Are you willing to accept that?”

“What do you mean?”

“The kind of person you just described to me. Those kind. Many of them end up telling someone sometime or somehow why they are the way they are. They’re going to talk about Jesus. Are you willing to accept that?”

“Are you telling me that some of your teachers are going to force their religion upon my children and that you are okay with that?”

“Absolutely not. That’s not what I said. I said the kind of teacher you described, the kind that loves every kid in their class—even the meanest, the dirtiest, the most obnoxious, the angriest, the rowdiest, the most arrogant, the jock, the cheerleader, the kid with a dozen piercings—EVERY KID. Those teachers. Most of them end up talking about Jesus. I didn’t say they pushed Jesus on anyone. I said they talk about Him. Often. When they don’t have to. They just end up doing it. Are you willing to accept that in order to have everything else you want from them?”

“I . . .”

“We have teachers here already like what you described, and we have a lot that fill a lot of your qualifications, but the unconditional love thing . . .well, if you want that, Jesus often comes with it.”

“You know, I never really thought about it like that. I . . . I honestly don’t know how to respond here. Are you actually saying to me that the only good teachers you have are the ones who talk about Jesus?”

“No. That’s not what I said. I said many of the ones who demonstrate day in and day out all the behaviors you described are going to end up talking about Jesus. That’s what I said, and I asked you if you were willing to accept that. It is NOT school policy for them to do so, and we try to discourage it, but it happens. I’ve heard about it happening more than once.”

“Mr. Superintendent, I can’t speak for the entire group of parents on this issue. We didn’t discuss this. I . . . well, I think this is an issue that all parents have to decide for themselves.”

“Well, what do you think, Ma’am? What is in the best interest of your children?”

“Love them first. Love them. I don’t care why—just love my kids as best as you can the way that I love them. Do whatever it takes. Hire teachers who would take a bullet for them. Find those kinds of teachers, Mr. Superintendent. That’s the reality we parents live with—entrusting the lives of our children to our Local School District and its teachers. Find the ones—be the ones who will save our children, even the Adam Lanzas of the world.”

“We’re trying, Ma’am. We’re trying.”
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