What Will We Tell Our Children This Time?

(Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP)
(Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP)

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many of you, I cried this morning. I cried for the five officers in Dallas who were shot in cold-blooded fashion during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. I cried, again, for the men in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, Minn., who were fatally shot by officers only days ago.

I cried when I listened to the accounts of witnesses to the hell in Dallas. Their shock, fear, and utter despair made me flinch.

I cried when I watched the graphic footage of Philando Castile and heard his final moans as his girlfriend told the world of the unfolding tragedy. 

I cried when I saw the equally graphic footage of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and heard the shots that ended his life.

I cried when I heard the Dallas police chief tell us that the Dallas sniper said he wanted to kill white police officers in retribution for the fatal shootings of black men.

(AP Photo/LM Otero)
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

I cried when I watched President Obama – for the second time in less than 24 hours – address violence in this nation. It was not lost on me that when he spoke, he was 5,000 miles away attending his last summit of NATO, an organization that exists in part to safeguard the freedom and security of member nations.  

I cried when I contemplated what we, as educators, will tell our children this time.

I cried when I thought about the world they are seeing, the pain they are witnessing, the sadness they are feeling.

I cried when I considered the psychic damage to each and every one of us. On the one hand, we are becoming inured to the constant shootings, the ever-present dangers, the lockdowns, the standoffs. On the other hand, each time another act of violence interrupts a brief interlude of “peace,” our souls cry out. Our hearts break again. 

Like you, I am so very weary of crying. I am so very weary of anger. I am so frustrated by the easy access to high-powered weapons that paved the way for Sandy Hook, Orlando, and Dallas.

We have, unfortunately, developed a catalogue of resources for how we speak to students about the shootings, ambushes, snipers, random violence, targeted attacks. But there are not enough resources in the world to make sense of the senseless.

One man in Dallas put it this way: “I’m tired of waking up every morning and seeing the same thing over, and over, and over again.”

As people who work in our nation’s public schools, NEA members are public service professionals, and we have a special bond with the men and women who devote their lives to securing the safety of all of us. We mourn with the city of Dallas and with the families of the slain police officers. In communities across the country, we work hand in hand with officers. Like them, we want to ensure that kids have the opportunities for a good life that they deserve.

At the same time, we recognize that there are some uses of deadly force by police officers against black and Latino people that call into question their training, and sometimes, even their assumptions about race and communities of color.

Those two perspectives – our solidarity with police officers and our concern about institutional racism and the way minorities are sometimes viewed and treated by police – are not in conflict with each other. What we all recognize is that there is a need by all of us for more comprehension and compassion. We cannot demonize those we don’t understand. We cannot hate entire groups of people because of the actions of some.

Because we are educators, I believe we have a special role to play in creating understanding. In building community. In the coming weeks, I challenge all of us to think about what we can do and how we can be beacons in this nation that all of us love so dearly. We owe it to our students. They are watching us.


20 Responses to “What Will We Tell Our Children This Time?”

  1. Nancee Fine

    Thank you for your wisdom and leadership. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  2. Cyndy Rutherford

    Lily, thank you. I am back in Baton Rouge after having spent last week with you. I was at the microphone with our state president, Debbie Meaux. Thank you for allowing us to have that moment of silence with Minnesota. Who knew things would get so much worse in Dallas?! I am scared and anxious for all of us so I will continue to work for justice and equality. I will also keep an inspirational quote in my heart as I do my daily activities and I will share it with anyone who cares to listen.

  3. S. Spilhaus

    We Canadians mourn with you and throw up our hands in despair. We are not a perfect society but this noxious disease of violence has not yet crossed our increasingly thinning border. Americans, look to your mild neighbour to the north for a model worth emulating before our joint border thins to breaking point, and the whole continent comes to grief.

  4. Patricia Lockwood

    I appreciated your comments. I was at the RA in DC this week. I am just not sure everyone loves this country. With the GOP candidate I worry for.this country. At times I don’t recognize it. I wonder where it all went wrong. I remember when we worried about communism and outside terrorist now we have them home grown. My children are grown but I worry for my students who are mostly Hispanic what country will they have and how do I motivate them. But come August I will go back to my school remind them that I care and until then pray for common sense, and not common core, to reappear
    Again thank you for your leadership.
    Tricia lockwood
    Loudoun, VA

  5. Linda Boitano

    Right on, Lily! So proud of you. You are doing a great job as President of NEA. You’ve gone a long way from when I first met you as Utah’s Teacher of the Year and you spoke to one of our conferences!

  6. Linda Boitano

    Great job, Lily! Proud of you & job you are doing. You’ve come a long way from our first meeting when you spoke to one of our conferences as Utah Teacher of the Year!

  7. Dr. Mark Russell

    As an NEA member, I immediately emailed President Obama, the Governor of Minnesota, and the police chief in Baton Rouge. Like most Americans, I was outraged at the senseless murders of African American men.

    Today I receive this email from NEA that reminds members “We cannot hate.” Seriously? I find it rather insulting that you’d preach to us about tolerance.

    It is important to treat NEA members like the enlightened individuals we are. Preaching to us about tolerance is insulting.

    I genuinely believe such articles do more harm than good.


    Mark W. Russell, PhD

  8. Dr. Robert Engle

    If the NEA truly believes “we cannot hate,” why does it hate charter schools, private schools, home-schooling, and people who oppose the forced unionization of public employees?

  9. Maureen Winick

    Indeed, our students are always watching us. As educators we need to model and teach tolerance,acceptance , communication skills.,compassion,and respect. In our world, these lessons may be far more significant than academics in creating and sustaining a safe , productive , and fulfilling life for all.

  10. Patrick Shirley

    I heartily agree with almost everything you mentioned, but you need to be much more precise with the way you mention “high powered firearms”. You are correct in saying access is too easy, but you cannot leave it at that. Our laws that restrict access to these weapons are excellent, our problem lies with the adequate enforcement of the kaw. Too many background checking agencies do not spend the time to really check persons true identity. Even worse, when a person who has illegally obtained a firearm and used it to commit s crime, they just get a slap on the wrist; our own president has pardoned more gun toting criminals than I can count on two hands. We need to enforce firearm laws to the letter of the law now!

  11. Guy Brown

    I cry when a policeman has to go through life with the burden of having to kill someone just because they would not follow his directions!
    When students don’t follow our directions, we don’t fear for our lives. When a suspect doesn’t follow directions, an officer, doing his job to maintain a civilized society, can get killed. THAT is why they have no tolerance and seem to use excessive force. Wait til the facts are out before you join an ignorant social media society villianising the officers who want to kiss their family goodnight!
    From the son of a policeman

  12. Delaina sims

    What so many fail to see is that each group fears the other group. It is not only the young black men that fear and distrust police, the white police officers fear and distrust the young black men. BOTH groups have the responsibility to demonstrate that they are trustworthy and and that one has nothing to fear of the other. I am not sure how we can do that without losing a lot more officers. Our histories haunt us.

  13. Maha Gregoretti

    Thanks for speaking up about issues that matter.

  14. Kathy Aldinger

    Great question for all of us to be prepared to answer. Not only teachers, but especially teachers! Prayer is needed for guidance. ✨??✨

  15. Lori Hurst

    Excellent article!! Loved it!!

  16. Dale

    Except law abiding gun owners, we can still demonize them…

  17. Arronda Hudson

    Thank you for writing an article that focused on compassion rather than politics. I have heard rhetoric from various camps and much of it is laden with anger. I understand the anger, the despondency, the sense of hopelessness and decades of frustration. I agree that change is needed; however I appreciated the approach from an educator to educators that we must think about the children. The classroom has historically been the microcosm that has birthed many social justice movements and I believe that we as educators have a responsibility to frame our responses to our students from a place of strength, reason, and compassionrather than from a place of our own fears or unexplored biases. In that way, we become the initiators of sustainable change and contributing members to the solution rather than the problem. We walk in the legacy of Dr. King Jr. and many others who dedicated their lives to the mission of global peace and harmony. Thank you for bringing the focus back to our students.

  18. Scott D. Mattson

    A BIG part of the answer to the problems stated in the speech above is for schools to get back to the responsibility of helping our communities and our parents raise virtuous U.S. citizens. In our high school government course, we begin teaching our students about the foundation of our republican (the system, not the party) government. Our Founding Fathers and the framers of the Constitution laid a foundation that balanced a recognition of individual rights with an understanding that with rights came responsibilities, some of which required sacrifice of personal choices in order to maintain a society that protected our most cherished rights. This is the social contract that holds this nation together. Unfortunately, too many of our children are raised in homes lacking the resources, be they human, fiscal or philosophical, to create a setting where good citizenship can be practiced. I know that most, if not all, teachers already have a lot on our plates, but helping train up good citizens is a helping of civic virtue we need to take on, if we’re not already doing it. The pendulum that held the balance of individual rights versus civic virtue and responsibility has tilted towards the selfish side. Too many of our young people are fed a steady diet of a “me first message,” and many don’t see doing well in school as their primary duty as young American citizens. For most, it’s a result of not being given a strong lesson in the virtue of self sacrifice, especially toward learning and maturing as citizens. We’re all naturally selfish as human beings; it’s kind of a self-defense mechanism to start with. But as we grow, our families, communities and schools have the responsibility of teaching us the social contract I mentioned above. If we can get back to focusing on this, perhaps the young person who considers succumbing to hatred or using violence to protect their individual desires and/or rights will temper their actions by relying on their sense of civic virtue and duty.

  19. Debbie Meaux

    Thank you for your words. We in Louisiana appreciate your stance. Though done because of bias, none of these acts were committed on a group of people but were the acts of lone wolves and those with insufficient training. Your words are well spoken and touch me to my core. I believe, as you do, that we must address these acts as that point out our need to look at one another as fellow human beings and not as adversaries. Only the willingness to be toleant and understanding of one another will change these kinds of situations. And we must address them in our classrooms with our students.

  20. Kurt Newbry

    I am a conservative independent. I’m really tired of people telling me how good Hillary is. 0pen your eyes and see what she has done. She literally tried to ruin the lives of women that were taken advantage of by her husband. She absolutely lied about Bengazi, about her e-mails, lied about the Clinton institution, etc., and we are supposed to vote and support this person because you say so? Get real and quit feeding us political B.S.! Be honest enough to admit that this lady has real problems that need to be exposed and delt with!


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