One teacher died; one lived. Both of them, Leona Caires and Jon Lane, had gone to work Friday morning to show a commitment that usually gets taken for granted, at best. Both of them, by day’s end, were heroes in a new and tragic way. When 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis stepped into a Moses Lake classroom with enough rage and firearms to kill scores of children, these two teachers risked their own lives to save their students.
By the time Lane had wrestled a deer rifle from Loukaitis’ hands, Caires and two students lay dying and a third student lay seriously wounded.
Words can’t ease the horror and the grief. If there is hope, it is in the gentle power of community. All over Moses Lake and beyond, parents hug their children more tightly, neighbors embrace in supermarket aisles, schoolteachers join hands and pray.
The same hands that reach out in comfort today can reach out to prevent such tragedies tomorrow. Prevention can begin with help - rather than carping - from the uninvolved, help for the unsung classroom heroes who spend their days among teens, laboring to equip them with the skills and confidence they need for successful living. Schools need volunteers.
Communities embrace their young in numerous other ways as well. Scouting, sports, church youth groups, school bands and more all run on the strength of volunteers. Most of the time, this works.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, in a new report on youth violence, says solutions have to come from adults. Yet, even in rural communities that once felt safe from the horror of children with smoking guns in their hands, adults often isolate themselves and their families, rather than staying involved as Lane and Caires did. The problem isn’t kids, it certainly isn’t schools and it’s not firearms. It’s fear.
“It’s all too common,” says the Mott report, “for young people to see themselves as being in constant danger. As a result, they become hyper-vigilant - perceiving slights, insults and threats … and responding with unflinching, unwarranted aggression.
“As a step toward altering that hopeless outlook, … adults need to step up to the task of fighting for kids - being their heroes and role models and protectors. Kids … need to feel safe.”
Adults can change American culture, which treats violence as a solution. We can pass along a skill that is at least as essential as the three R’s and “family values.” We can show children how to deal with disappointment, pain and fear - without reaching for a gun. But we can do so only if we’re engaged constructively in their lives - as teachers are, with less appreciation than they deserve, every day.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board