On the survey we give our fifth grade students, inevitably one of the kids gets to a question about marijuana use, and the snickers begin. "Why would they ask this?" some of them want to know. Some of this hilarity continues right up the questions about knowing anyone who has died by violence. These are the questions that make the room quiet again. So many of them answer "yes." Too many of them.
This survey isn't about getting healthier choices for school lunches. It's about life and death. Questions we ask our eleven year olds to answer. So we can figure out how to deal with all that loss. As I sat at my desk Friday night, bubbling in computer forms for each of those fifth graders representing their physical fitness scores, I wondered about their futures. Not just because of their physical fitness, but the world that will receive them.
I know that two of my former students never saw their eighteenth birthday. These little boys that I taught never got to grow up and become what they hoped. They never got to grow up. I wondered if any other those names that I had so painstakingly filled in with my number two pencil would become part of that list. Troubled kids. Angry kids. Scared kids. Who could blame them? Growing up in fear. Mass shootings in schools get the twenty-four hour news focus. Innocent bystanders, "accidental shootings," gang related, crimes of passion: Dead kids. Cancelled futures.
The death of one is a tragedy. Children dying compound the tragedy. Take a look into the eyes of a mother or father whose child passed away before them. Feel that pain. Feel that loss. Remember that this happens nearly one hundred times a day in America. Everyone that dies was someone's baby once.
I am now teaching the babies of some of the students I taught. They will take that survey that asks if they know anyone who has died by violence. They will take the physical fitness test that measures their heart and lung capacity. Their strength. Children are strong. They are resilient. They deserve a chance to grow up.