Monday, February 17, 2014

Watching History From the Sidelines

"History never looks like history when you are living through it." (John W. Gardner)

I can remember moments in my life when I knew that I was witnessing history.  I'm sure we all can. These moments, whether they are big or small, global or local, have one thing in common.

They change us somehow.  They change what we do in the future, or how we see things, or what we value.  That's what makes them personally "historical" to us.

And because they have that impact on us, it means that when they occur we are more than just silent observers of the event.  We are participants, through our witnessing, in a unique and special way.  But as Mr. Gardner noted above, we aren't often aware of all of this at the time that we're caught swirling in the middle of it.

It's easier sometimes to see that in big "international" stories, or "landmark" events in our lives.  I can remember where I was and how I felt when:
  • 7 brave American astronauts tragically died when the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded on a cold January morning in 1986.
  • The buzzer sounded on the floor of the Chiles Center in March 1990 and I and Mark Neffendorf shook hands having just seen our Glencoe girls win the State Championship in basketball.
  • The numbed shock I felt on September 11, 2001 watching the World Trade Center collapse after terrorists slammed jetliners into it.
  • The quiet joy and peace that radiated from me as I stood in the sun on the banks of the Rogue River on my wedding day in September 2006, waiting for my bride Deborah to come down the steps towards me.
I know that each of these events changed me.  They either changed what I valued, or they changed the course of my life, personally or professionally.  But I doubt I could have told you that when they happened.

I have the feeling that the same thing will be true about recent local events I've been witness to during the last 10 days.  My friends and colleagues in the Medford School District have been on strike since February 6th - trying to get a stubborn School Board to honor a commitment they made two years ago to fairly compensate their teachers.  It's been a difficult struggle to watch from afar.  I watch, and read, and listen to colleagues I respected deeply fighting for what they're due - yet since I'm retired, I'm also separate from the battles.  Part of me is relieved at that, and yet part of me feels drawn to "try to do something".  Just as there are "battle lines" outside each of Medford schools, there has been a similar division within me, trying to pull me its way:  deeper into the fight, or to try to escape it.  It's been a good thing to watch.

So, I guess that's why I wrote what I have; an attempt to understand the significance of the events and how they're impacting me.  But I also had another motive pushing me.  Like any good historian, I simply wanted to archive some "artifacts" from the last week or so.  My colleagues and their students have been prolific in flooding the social media with comments, writings, videos, etc. to rally people to their cause.  I wanted to save somehow some of the ones that most moved me.  

The first one is a letter my friend Adam Drew posted on his Facebook page titled "This All Matters".

I was moved by his passion, as well as his realization that he was teaching a larger lesson to his students through his very actions. (But that's Adam, if you knew him!).  One of his last lines read: "And we make you this solemn vow: when we get back in the classroom, when we get back with our students, we will teach with a ferocity like never before."  It brought tears to my eyes.  

The second one is a video titled "Support Our Teachers".  I'm not sure whether the MEA or a student produced it, but it also moved me.

Almost every one of the teachers interviewed on here are my former South Medford colleagues.  Seeing them, and hearing them speak with such strength and conviction, made me appreciate even more deeply how lucky I had been to be able to work with them.  They are a special group.

The third artifact is a letter written by one of my ex-students on his Facebook page.  Because he mentioned my name in it, I was lucky to be able to read it.

Travis surprised me with his courage and willingness to speak up for his mentors and friends, and I was humbled to know all the challenges he faced while in our classrooms, unseen by us, and yet he persevered.  I'm proud to have been one of his teachers.

The last artifact is another video, this one produced by a SMHS student, Daniel Elmore.  In 2 1/2 minutes he presents an unblinking look at the impact of the strike on SMHS students and makes the case for why the Board needs to end this strike.

History is being made.  People's lives are being changed - I hope in the end, for the positive.  It takes courage and sacrifice to stand up and act in pursuit of real change.

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time.  WE are the ones we've been waiting for.  WE are the change we seek." (President Barack Obama)

Some of South Medford's finest - I hope you don't mind that I borrowed the picture, Brenda D.!
Medford students and teachers are showing that kind of courage and resolve.  I have no doubt that it will change them, and change their world. 

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