Our Voice: Educators memorial calls to mind the unthinkable

May 1, 2014 

Some careers are inherently dangerous. Law enforcement officers go to work with a gun on their hips and dressed in a protective vest. They are trained how to respond to an attacker. It's possible, even likely, that their jobs will put them in harm's way.

Disarming a gunman is not part of the job description for teachers or school bus drivers or playground aides.

Nor should it be.

But it is. The Memorial to Fallen Educators will honor a few of the people who have died in the name of education. Most are teachers; some have other jobs related to education.

Two people from Washington will be listed on the memorial -- both from our corner of the state. Bob Mars was stabbed in 2004 in Benton City and Leona Caires was shot in 1996 in Moses Lake.

The National Teachers Hall of Fame will dedicate the Memorial to Fallen Educators on June 12 at Emporia State University in Kansas.

This memorial and dedication ceremony will honor fallen educators and provide a permanent tribute to their sacrifice. The memorial will list 112 people who have died in the name of education. This is nowhere near a comprehensive list. Sadly, there have been many, many more.

Violence at schools is not new. The earliest recorded school shooting in the United States predates our country's official birthday. It was in 1760. The school master and 6 or 7 (accounts vary) children died.

The list of incidents since then is a regrettable and somber reminder that our children's safety is never guaranteed, nor is the safety of those we've entrusted with their care.

Memorials don't honor the living but perhaps this one should. Some of those who survived the attacks willingly put themselves in harm's way to protect students and adults.

For example, in the Moses Lake shooting, gym coach Jon Lane heard gunshots and came toward the sound. He grabbed the weapon, wrestled the shooter to the ground and subdued him until the police arrived.

In nearly all of the stories of violence at school, there are teachers, administrators, staff and even other students working to save lives.

School violence is sobering and horrifying to consider. We grieve that safety is on the list of problems educators have to confront. It ought to be enough to tackle teaching calculus. Teachers should not have to tackle students with weapons bent on destruction.

The American Psychological Association calls violence against teachers a "silent national crisis." More than a quarter of a million teachers are threatened with physical harm each year. About half of those teachers are actually attacked. That amounts to about 3 percent of the teaching force.

The new memorial gives us pause. It continues a decades-old conversation that has yet to stop the deadly violence plaguing our school. Teachers are vital to our society. They deserve our respect and protection.

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