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Singing Songs of Joy and Peace

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
Leonard Bernstein

I woke up this morning to the sound of gunshots. Not the terrible gunshots haunting my nightmares lately--the actual resonant booms of hunting rifles, nearby. Firearms deer season--when we heard continuous shooting, dawn to dusk--is over. It's ruffled grouse season, and anyone with a valid MI license can hunt rabbit or squirrel. I live in northern Michigan, where hunting is a way of life--my local grocery store had, literally, more than 100 dead deer piled up near the back door, ready for processing, just two weeks ago.

Which is why I was heartened by this editorial in the center-right Traverse City Record-Eagle, urging my governor to veto a bill that allows guns to be carried into schools and day-care centers, among other places. Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst has declared their "neutrality" on the MI guns-in-schools bill--but then, they've already had their say, eagerly funding the craven legislators who voted it through.

How can you be "neutral" on any of this? This is a national crisis of confidence--and all crises are opportunities. Opportunities to be statesmanlike, to open an important conversation, to build community, to re-think the purpose of education, to re-write laws, to ask pointed questions, to mourn together.

And--to sing songs of joy and peace. To re-affirm a conviction that public schools, whether they be in the leafy suburbs, northern woods or gritty urban centers, are places of hope and caring. In fact, traditional public education--free, high-quality and open to everyone--may be America's best and most democratic idea.

Of all the moving things I've seen, read and pondered in the last five days, it is this photo that touches me most deeply--the 4th graders at Sandy Hook rehearsing their winter concert program, from slain principal Dawn Hochsprung's Twitter feed.

As my friend Rachel Levy, mother of two fourth graders, says:

Just as teachers' going to the hallway to help was heroic, all of these "small" things that educators do are heroic, too--staying late in the evening to put on the 4th grade winter concert, so that children can feel what it is to rehearse and perform a body of songs, what it is to share the joy of music as your parents and community watch--and maybe to sing along together at the end.

Music heals. Think of the bagpipes, droning "Going Home" at funerals of 9/11 first responders. Of the pure voices of the New York Children's Chorus singing "Silent Night" to set the stage for laughter on Saturday Night Live. Of the second grade teacher at Sandy Hook, whisper-singing "Jingle Bells" and "I Have a Little Dreidel" with her students as evil and mayhem raged outside their classroom.

Today, I am very proud to be teacher.

And I wish all of my readers a peaceful holiday season, filled with light and hope. And, of course, lots and lots of music.

It's coming on Christmas, they're cutting down trees. Putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace. I wish I had a river I could skate away on... Joni Mitchell

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