Guest Column: Every (violent) step will show

This summer, I attended a country school conference in the Midwest, where I heard an educational researcher speak about Amish one-room schoolhouses. I hurried to order his book on Amish education, a culmination of 20 years of study on Amish culture and rural education. I read it cover to cover and then again in bits and pieces; I was energized by the simplicity and effectiveness of their one-room schoolhouse system within a tightly knit community of people with shared values. For me, the reading was an anecdote to the apathy that frequently washes over me when I hear yet another blathering bureaucrat talk about accountability in education or a myopic politician declare another war on a social problem or enigmatic enemy. The pacifist convictions of the Amish and other Anabaptists are in part what make them such an object of curiosity and even awe to those of us who long for escape from the barrage of hostility and domination emanating from political, social, educational, and economic sectors of our society.

So it was with a heavy heart last week that I listened to a bellicose roll call of victims of school violence, culminating into a horrific accounting against some of the last people on earth who stand apart from the crazed violence that can characterize our species. But now, even the Amish aren’t safe. The attacks on Amish school children arose in me, and in another with whom I shared my heartache, a desire to protect the Amish way of life because we admire their values and their steadfastness. We envisioned deputized English people standing guard outside every one-room schoolhouse to ensure the madness of the outside world didn’t cross the threshold of a sacred place.

Teaching by example is as old as the rural land the Amish occupy. Step by step we go. Abroad, our current presidential administration teaches aggression by example. Bush has the audacity to call for a conference in the wake of the latest spate of school violence, while he and his cohorts use flimsy rhetoric to continue their offensive (not defensive) acts of aggression, positioning American soldiers as roadside fodder. We have a congress prone to group think and reactive hindsight that does not represent the wishes of its constituents. Bush and Cheney and their cabinet’s bulldog tactics, and Congress’ nonfeasance, have made a mess of diplomacy, earned us enemies around the world, and perpetuated a culture of aggression that has become synonymous with the name United States. Once we were thought of as the liberators. Now Bush and company have corrupted the word.

I recently met an old veteran during a World War II Days re-enactment. Sitting in his wheelchair at a USO dance, war medals decorating his drab green hat and coat, he took my hand and said, “It wasn’t really like this . . . it wasn’t this nice,” referring to the fun we were all having dressed up in 1940’s military and civilian garb, listening to early jazz and swing music. “It was awful, especially in the infantry,” he said. Then he implored me to do something to stop the Iraq war. He said the soldiers on the ground don’t have a chance. He said it was up to “you all” (might he mean you and me?) to stop the war.

What we must stop is a culture of violence. Violence has now reached its tentacles into an older and ordered society that sought to protect itself from the larger world and its concomitant aggression. Its violation is particularly mournful. What can we do? It’s simple. Refuse to patronize violence through mute acceptance, purchases, taxation, or representation. Amish classrooms post aphorisms or guiding principles for students to reflect on as they quietly do their reading, writing and arithmetic. Here’s one to ponder: The future lies before us like a sheet of fallen snow. Be careful how you tread it, for every step will show.

Anne Schreiber (pen name) is an educator and flaming critic of injustice who hotly voices her views over a sauté pan in her kitchen or, when provoked, over a keyboard in her office. She invites you to attend the showing of The Selling of Iraq at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner, Rockford, 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 16.

From the Oct. 11-17, 2006, issue

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