Dear Mr. President,
In light of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, we are all wrestling with what is the proper response to yet another scene of tragedy, violence and loss of innocence. As the father of a first grader and a three year old, my heart sticks when I drop my kids off at school now for fear that this morning might be the last morning I had breakfast with them, that last night might be the last night I read to them a bedtime story.
In your powerful and beautiful cry to find a way, any way, to change the moral climate of America so that we do more by the most vulnerable among us and thereby offer a better future to everyone, you stated that we as a nation were not doing all we could do, and you pledged that each one of us must find a step that might lead us forward. Since you called on educators to engage in this conversation, I offer my thoughts, however small they may be.
As both a theologian and a philosopher of moral education, it has long been my argument that we must re-imagine what we mean by being well-educated if we want a more virtuous union. I know education alone is not the complete answer, but it does seem to me that if we get education right, so many other things come along with it.
What seems to be all-too-familiar in the discussions of the individuals who commit these heinous acts of senseless violence is how alone they appeared both to themselves and to others. In a moral climate of rabid individualism that encourages personal accumulation and selfish consumption, I posit that what schooling must do is reassess what we believe is right and good for our future generations. If these individuals had felt a sense of belonging, connection and responsibility for their fellow man, perhaps they would have chosen different paths.
I am convinced that education has derailed along the lines of what we most need for our society. In an age of high-stakes testing and standardized curriculum, there is little space for assessing wisdom, moral courage, and active kindness. Every human has been given both the blessing and the weight of free will, the power to choose that which is good, wise, sound and virtuous or that which is destructive, damaging, unhealthy and ruinous, and it lies within the power of education in all its guises (the schoolhouse, the family, the church, politics, media, etc.) to offer students the capacity to choose wisely.
The one small step I would offer in this larger conversation is this: help us, Mr. President, rethink what is possible through the power of education. Give us the strength and the courage to help students think beyond their own self glorification and gratification, to chose the more difficult work of pursuing civic virtue for the common good.
The great purpose of life is not to build cities dominated by skyscrapers but communities reflective of full human flourishing, not to create empires of wealth but families of love, not to inflame desires but to satisfy deep longings, not to waste time in small pursuits but to give our lives to transcendent causes, not to venerate cults of violence but to turn swords into plowshares, not to live with our nose to the grindstone but to sing and dance.
Again, I know that this does not touch the issues of mental health, gun control, the culture of violence we glorify in our media, school security or any number of the things that go into unraveling the hydra before us, nor do I think education is the cure-all for what ails us, but I do believe that education has the power to turn homo sapiens into fully robust, caring, ethical human beings capable of dreaming big dreams and writing better stories both for themselves and for the common good.
As an educator, theologian, philosopher, father and citizen, I offer whatever I can to help see your vision of a better America come true.
Thank you for your heartfelt words, moral conviction and strength of resolve.
May God bring comfort to the grieving, hope to the barren, and light to the dark places.