Tom Roderick (2002)

Keeping the Faith:
Teaching and Social Responsibility in Challenging Times

It’s been a tough ten months. The images are seared in our minds: the planes crashing into the World Trade Center; bombs falling on Afghanistan; Palestinian suicide bombers killing Israeli civilians; Israeli tanks leveling Palestinian settlements; India and Pakistan exchanging threats and gunfire and raising the specter of nuclear war. The pain of the world lies heavy upon us. We fear what the future will bring—ourselves and for the children we are working so hard to nurture in our schools and homes.

The continuing crisis has also spawned many stories of heroism. That’s what I’m going to focus on this morning. Police officers and firefighters have received acclaim for their bravery and sacrifice— as they should. But let’s not forget the teachers! Teachers too—including, I bet, all of you sitting in this room—filled many an “unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run” during this most challenging of school years.

And so I’m going to begin by telling some stories of teachers who in the hard, long months after September 11 “did the right thing.” Like the police officers and fire fighters, these teachers would say, “It was nothing. I was just doing my job.” They would be right. They were just doing their jobs. But to me a “hero” is someone who does ordinary things under extraordinary circumstances.

Public School 2 (not its real name—I have changed all of the names of the schools I’m going to talk about) has families of many different backgrounds, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who are recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Educators for Social Responsibility Metropolitan Area (ESR Metro) has worked with the school since 1985, training and coaching teachers and students in conflict resolution. Two families lost fathers and one teacher lost her brother in the World Trade Center tragedy. After a series of meetings, the school leadership team hit on the idea of involving the school’s families in creating a mural as a memorial to the people lost and an affirmation of the school’s long-time commitment to nonviolence and celebration of diversity. They got permission to use an outdoor wall of the school’s annex that is visible from the street. Kathleen, the school’s art teacher, threw herself into the project, guiding more than 50 parents and children who came out on four Saturdays this spring to create a beautiful mural celebrating the cultures represented in the school. The project had special significance for Kathleen because she was the teacher who had lost her brother on September 11. | Read the full paper»