Anyone lucky enough to have octogenarian parents have marveled at the stories they tell of what it was like to go to school 70 years ago. Most started out in one room school houses. My father speaks often of his 5 mile walks to school, of how it was his job to keep the pot bellied stove full of wood during the winter months. We always listen in horrified fascination when he tells of the brute authoritarianism of his teachers who were famous for their knuckle-rapping rulers and fondness for public humiliation as a teaching tool. We can hardly imagine what it must have been like to teach a room full of kids from age 6-18. The fact that my Dad’s generation became known as “The Greatest” seems impossible from such a backward education foundation. But, all those guys and girls did was fight and win a World War, then come back home and unleash the most dynamic economic expansion in the history of Western Civilization, and while they were at it…they brought US into the world.
I mention all of this because I haven’t been able to think of much else since the events of yesterday in Henrico County. First, it was announced that there would be a two hour delay of school because of the…cold. It was 10 degrees at dawn and during the day the high temperature reached 26. I certainly hope my 89 year old Dad wasn’t watching TV when that was announced! The temperature didn’t set any type of all time record. There have been much colder days in past years, in fact, many sub-zero temperatures have been recorded in Richmond before. But I never remember having school delayed because of the temperature.
Then, mid-afternoon news began splashing all over the TV about some sort of incident at Glen Allen High School. First reports were of an agitated male teacher. Then the story changed to a love sick 16 year old student who “might have a gun.” Soon, the entire parking lot and all the streets around the school were covered with paramilitary units armed with machine guns, SWAT teams scurried around armed to the teeth, ready to spring into action. Every available Henrico County squad car seemed to be there, blue lights flashing. A crowd of worried parents stood in 15 degree cold waiting for information about the gun wielding teenager inside. Finally, a spokesperson for the, er..uh, authorities informed the crowd that in fact, the 16 year old in question was not in the school and in fact had never been to school all day. News teams from all three local news stations were on the scene with breathless accounts of what might have been another Columbine. One such reporter promised an interview at eleven of one of the girls who had endured this tragic day from the war zone of her Chemistry class. The County will no doubt provide psychological counseling for rattled students as they arrive two hours late this morning.
The old adage at play here in both cases seems to be, rather be safe than sorry. I get it. If some poor kid in Varina is found frozen to death at his bus stop, the County would be tarred and feathered for its insensitive negligence. If there really had been a 16 year old wielding a Glock inside Glen Allen High School and the county hadn’t unleashed 10 divisions to the school, I suppose the blood of innocents would have been on their hands. I suppose. We live in a country ruled by lawyers and governed ultimately by litigation, so this is the way things must be now.
Still, I cannot shake the conviction deep down inside me that we have become a weak and pampered country, where life’s difficulties and nature’s wrath have become things to avoid instead of obstacles to overcome.
10 degrees out? How about we throw on another layer and make an adventure out of it?