The Two-Year Anniversary of Parkland

I’m breaking the norm from my usual two posts a week, every Sunday and Wednesday, to share this letter I wrote to The Children’s School families two years ago, on Feb. 21, 2018. I end with the lament, “Growing up should never be so hard to do.” Two years later, it’s still hard. This afternoon, I talked to one of our teachers, S, who had a really difficult day yesterday. Her daughter, F, is eleven years old and goes to one of the local public middle schools. Since August:

  • She has witnessed three fights at her school;
  • A few weeks ago, some students in her class were held at gunpoint outside the school;
  • Another student comes to class every day, curses the teacher and throws stuff around, threatening to kill everyone.

S is wondering why this student is still allowed at her daughter’s school. What does she tell her eleven year-old? How does she protect her childhood? Growing up should never be so hard to do.

Dear TCS Families:

I can’t stop thinking about the shooting one week ago in Parkland, FL. I don’t know why that is; something feels different now. Maybe I can’t put it out of my mind because I’m not supposed to; because it’d be wrong to ignore, again, why these tragedies continue. Schools are the strongest and the most vulnerable places of any neighborhood; where families bring their most precious parts of themselves, their children, and their dreams and aspirations and hand them over into the trusting hands of strangers who quickly become an extension of the family.

I’m wondering, and worrying, right now about all of you: what are you telling – or not telling – your children about what happened in Parkland? Are they asking about whether it can occur at our school? Why someone, anyone, would want to harm anyone who looks like them or their friends? I wonder and I worry about each of you.

Shortly after I started at TCS in spring 2013, Neeti asked me whether I had accepted the reality of what it means to be a head of school. I said yes. I felt responsible for the livelihoods and the lives of several hundred children and adults and, directly or indirectly, their immediate and extended families. We don’t have children of our own, but I come to work every day knowing and accepting the responsibility of keeping your children, and those that surround your children, safe and secure as if they are our own.

I left my own immediate family when I was 16 and came several thousand miles away to a small boarding school in Asheville, NC. While my parents supported me and loved me, they couldn’t really “parent” me from so far away. When I graduated from college, I joined schools as a teacher and then administrator because being in schools helped me compensate for the void I felt in my life of a family and my parents. Until the age of 16, I had a normal and wonderful childhood. But, my childhood ended when I came over to the United States, and I had to grow up, sometimes against what – looking back now – I’d have wished for myself. To steal from Christopher Robin in the movie, “Goodbye, Christopher Robin,” my childhood was wonderful, but growing up was hard to do. The childhood of so many children in Parkland and schools across the country has ended. Growing up now will be hard to do.

A few months ago, I read an article that the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, obsesses over the customer experience and has made that the cornerstone of Amazon’s culture. I wondered then what I obsess over as head of The Children’s School. What would I say to anyone who asked me that question? My answer didn’t take long. I obsess over childhood, to ensure that every child’s joy, creativity, and passion for life; their can-do, will-do attitude; their sense of invincibility; their wonder and curiosity; and their limitless imagination that builds castles in the air and reaches for the stars are at the center of everything they do or experience, to embed it all so deep into their consciousness that it becomes inseparable no matter what the world tells them or inflicts on them. I obsess over that kind of a childhood; and I see it happen at TCS every day.

Adults who have been adults for too long naively call all of the above a child’s innocence, implying that our children don’t know better. Reflecting on the events of one week ago, it seems to me that it’s we – the adults – who don’t know better. Let’s build those castles in the air and reach for the stars like our children do. They show us every day that they have power. Why, then, do we act so powerless? Others may call it naive, but perhaps that’s how we will protect our children and their childhood. Growing up should never be so hard to do.

For all children,

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