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Courage in the Face of Fire

Note: Alan Blankstein, president and founder of the HOPE Foundation closes out this week with a heartfelt guest blog on the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. May his words allow us to reflect on the past, provide comfort for the present, and change for the future.

As father of a 6-year-old girl in elementary school, the loss of young helpless children at Sandy Hook cuts deep into my heart and spirit. As a life-long advocate of education and teacher's spouse, I find the crisis beckons a collective response from the professional community.

The first defenders against yet another deranged assailant with easy access to arms - and the first courageous heroes of that day - were again the educators on the scene. They both risked and gave their lives to defend their children. Too many children have lost their lives for us to turn away from this crisis and return to holiday shopping. This time we must recognize and act on the fact that it is easier to get automatic weapons than a passport in the United States; and it is easier to hold educators up as heroes for a day only to take aim at them the next day as lazy, indolent, callous and unqualified.

The fact is, educators are our first line of defense every day. We entrust our very future to them and we expect a range of emotional, educational and, yes, physical supports for our children. In return, we must come to terms with the fact that educators -- despite the daily societal regimen that alternates between dismissive neglect and unabashed blame -- exemplify the true meaning of "courage."

"Courage" comes from the root word "le Coeur" or the heart. Since Aristotle, courage has been understood for centuries to be, as he stated, "The mother of all virtues." Many Native American traditions including Lakota Sioux understood courage to be something to be developed in young braves by teaching them to sacrifice for the greater good, and on behalf of the weakest and least able to protect themselves. In our modern violent society, "courage" has been bestowed only upon our warriors. Yet as educators intuitively understand, developing the capacity to act from the heart is practiced each day; sacrificing one's life on behalf of others is only the most extreme depiction of courage.

The educators in Sandy Hook Elementary School demonstrated the supreme depiction of courage by sacrificing their lives for those unable to protect themselves. Yet courage is inherent to our field, and it is time that America be made to step up and support our heroes each day.

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