It’s Us

Reading time – 2:50; Viewing time – 4:09  .  .  .

A recent study has found a most hopeful truth about our country. In The Reinvention of America, James Fallows writes,

Serious as the era’s problems are, more people, in more places, told us they felt hopeful about their ability to move circumstances the right way than you would ever guess from national news coverage of most political discourse. Pollsters have reported this disparity for a long time. For instance, a national poll that The Atlantic commissioned with the Aspen Institute at the start of the 2016 primaries found that only 36 percent of Americans thought the country as a whole was headed in the right direction. But in the same poll, two-thirds of Americans said they were satisfied with their own financial situation, and 85 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their general position in life and their ability to pursue the American dream. Other polls in the past half-dozen years have found that most Americans believe the country to be on the wrong course—but that their own communities are improving.

That’s positive news. So, even as we we snarl at one another over our political craziness and the spittle flies with our snarky certainties about “those others”, in fact we’re doing okay on the local level where we actually engage with one another and recognize our shared humanity. When we’re just folks, most of us seem to be okay together and we’re making our way through life pretty well, which brings us to how that happens.

Mark Rigby is the Assistant Principal for Operations at Niles West High School, a large suburban Chicago school with an astonishing diversity among its student population. The folks charged with the welfare of these students, as at every school in America, are acutely aware of many threats that can shake the stuffing out of everyone. Still, these leaders carry on in the best tradition. Here’s a recent post from Mark. He sent this to the faculty and administrators at NWHS:

In the spirit of sharing, I ran across this memorandum from a Mr. C.J. Price, who was peripherally in charge of Parkland Memorial Hospital during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and all the ensuing calamitous events that followed. He penned this beauty on 27 November 1963:

“What is it that enables an institution to take in stride such a series of history jolting events? Spirit? Dedication? Preparedness? Certainly, all of these things are important, but the underlying factor is people. People whose education and training are sound. People whose judgment is calm and perceptive. People whose actions are deliberate and definitive. Our pride is not that we were swept up by the whirlwind of tragic history, but that when we were, we were not found wanting.”

We in education have a tendency to fall back on “policy and procedure” when discussing events that take place. As Mr. Price says above, what really matters when the rubber meets the road and the balloon goes up and we are up against it, is you. I read this and thought of Niles West and wish each of you to know the importance of what you contribute each day. We are rarely found wanting, and our students are most fortunate.

I think Mark and Mr. Price are on to something: the critical factor is us.

We are the people who make our neighborhoods and our communities work. We’re the ones who step up and help each other when the hurricane or tornado hits, when another angry, crazy person guns down our innocents or when the creek overflows or a neighbor is ill. To borrow Mark Rigby’s phrasing, we are rarely found wanting when it’s close to home and we are all most fortunate for that.

Many thanks to Mark Rigby for allowing me to share his words.

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Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
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