Karen Magee: Lessons From Orlando

Jun 23, 2016

Like the rest of America, I woke up on the morning of June 12th to shock and horror.

Forty-nine innocent people – most around the same age of my own children – were murdered in cold blood at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

They were doing what young people everywhere do on a Saturday night. They were socializing with their friends, listening to music, dancing and letting off steam – simply enjoying life when a terrorist armed with an assault rifle stormed in and killed them.

That it was a gay nightclub -- and that the innocent victims were targeted merely because they chose to freely and joyously live their lives – makes this latest spasm of violence and terror even more revolting.

My heart goes out to the L-G-B-T community in Orlando, New York and everywhere else. I hope they are comforted by the outpouring of love and support from decent people all across our great country.

As an educator of nearly 30 years, I immediately thought of all of the nation’s teachers and how they would face their classes on Monday morning.

How would they look at those youthful faces in front of them and try to help them make sense of the senseless?

I myself faced this difficult task after Columbine, Newtown and 9-11.  I know that public schools are one of the most important places in our communities to offer and receive support when a crisis occurs. And, I know that students need help coping with traumatic events.

All across the state, educators are, sadly, again trying to help students comprehend the unspeakable.

I’m proud to note that my union – New York State United Teachers – offers lesson plans for teachers. Through a partnership with Share My Lesson, we provide ideas and resources for teachers to help their students cope with fear, grief, bullying, gun violence, stereotyping and – perhaps most importantly – how to be an ally to those in need.

In New York, we are also very fortunate to have the work of NYSUT’s own L-G-B-T-Q Committee.

Educators from every corner of the state – gay and straight – have regularly come together to work toward a culture of greater tolerance and understanding in our public schools and colleges.

Our committee’s work is multi-faceted. It seeks to increase support for L-G-B-T-Q teachers and staff; to encourage healthy dialogue about issues; to work to end bullying and hatred; and to create safe, welcoming spaces for students and staff.

Their message is a universal message – we are all one family deserving of dignity, respect and freedom.

Hate and fear must be defeated.

We need to stand resolute and united, grounded in the unshakable belief that all people deserve dignity and respect, regardless of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

As a society, we have some work ahead of us – on terrorism, on gun violence and on spreading tolerance among all. But, as a life-long educator I believe that, ultimately, love will win out over hate. We can teach America that – in the end – we are all one people. 

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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