The Invisible Flag Waves Again

May 27, 2022

Flags across the nation are at half-mast. Again.

The proper way to put a flag at half-mast is to first raise it all the way to the top, then to pause and bring it back down. The explanation I like best for this tradition is that we bring it down to make room for “the invisible flag of death” looming over a ship, a fort, or in this case, a nation. We have seen our flags at half-mast so often that the flag of death sadly casting its waving shadow no longer seems invisible.

I cannot imagine the pain that the town of Uvalde is experiencing. Just two weeks ago, I wrote about the pain a parent experiences when losing a child. Something that resembles that pain is happening 19 times over in Uvalde. And then there are the two teachers who died trying to protect the children they loved. I’ve been reading about their joyous professionalism – they had families, parents, spouses, and children, all of whom are also suffering tremendously. I feel the survivors’ pain from so many miles away, and I weep for all of them.

We’ve now experienced two mass shootings in one month: The Tops Supermarket massacre in Buffalo, NY, and now the horrific and unfathomable events that took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX. The Buffalo shooting was a direct result of white supremacist beliefs and fears. People who are not angered by, or even condemning anything associated with this movements are part of the problem. As Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said, “This was pure evil, a straight-up racially motivated hate crime.”

It’s early to try to understand, but the Uvalde shooting evades comprehension. From early reports, the gunman had a history of anger and bullying, but not a criminal record, nor was there a history of documented mental illness. We will find out more, but I’m not ready to draw conclusions based on how little we know thus far.

I pride myself on being able to productively and calmly dialogue with friends and family who have different political beliefs than I do. I know many who are avid hunters and place a very high priority on gun ownership, as well as gun safety and security. But with most of my friends and family, we are able to find common ground when it comes to a desire for universal and more extensive background checks and longer waiting periods.

I’m with the Golden State Warriors’ Coach Steve Kerr, who would not even talk about basketball when he met with the press before the team’s huge playoff game, as he pushed for a federal law that would require more extensive background checks, urging those who “refuse to do anything about the school violence and supermarket shootings” to take action.

I’m with country western singer Tim McGraw, who said, “Divisive rhetoric has done zero to help this problem – it’s only made it worse. For one minute, let’s set aside our idealistic views and concentrate on the kind of world we want our children to grow up in.”

And I’m with the educators who are reeling over all of this. I have seen several letters from superintendents and principals expressing their sorrow over this latest school shooting (I included one powerful example below), and reminding parents of the dozens of safety measures that have been implemented and built over the last three decades. The employees in the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District were well-trained and flat-out heroic. Teachers locked down the classrooms and kept students as calm and safe as possible. Today and always, school employees have my deepest respect and admiration for their commitment to school safety. There are dozens of heroic stories that I’m sure will come out of this.

And yet, the school shootings continue.

When I became a teacher back in 1984, I did not think I was signing up to confront murderers with assault rifles. But today, every educator knows that possibility is out there. In spite of that, we educators continue to work in schools, because we love our students, we find purpose in helping our students be the best persons they can be, and we refuse to give up.

My request and hope for all of us is that we do our part, not just with thoughts and prayers, but with a commitment to not let angry dialogue dominate our airwaves, our school board meetings, and our political chambers. My request and hope is that we seek to understand the complexities of these issues, refuse to let simplified political slogans remove that complexity, and work together to solve the problems that lead to a world in which 5-year-olds and kindergarten teachers need to be trained in how to respond to an active shooter – in which any educator or student has to think about the possibility of dying simply because they went to school or work today.

Our children are watching how our nation is solving problems right now, and they are learning the wrong lessons. Even if political rivals do not care for each other or sit on the same side of the aisle, we all share a love for the innocent victims who continue to be killed. I won’t quite go as far as Lennon and McCartney’s “All You Need is Love,” but if we start there, we can be better.

The invisible flag of death will only wave more often if we don’t change.


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My friend Tara is an elementary school principal and a mother. She’s amazing at both. This is what she wrote to her community.

Mass shootings hit harder and heavier for educators. Our training and expertise is in instruction and not combat. Yet, each and every day, we are expected to show up for kids despite the very real fear that we may have to lay down our own lives when we do.

I’m just so sick of it.

Parents, I’m sure you hugged your kids tighter last night. We try our best to shelter our kids from the ills of the world, and yet we are faced with having to tell them what to do if someone is trying to harm them while they learn, play, laugh, and grow. The senseless and spineless act in Uvalde, reminds us how precious life is. My heart breaks for the families that have to feel this pain.

Still, with resilience and strength our teachers and staff press forward, ready to face another day in this profession. Watching you show up every day as beacons of hope and light inspires me each and every day to be your advocate, support, and to continue this job of public service with my head held high.

I will not let the fear and intimidation of the few derail our dreams of changing the world for the many.

To our educators around the world…You showed up today, and I acknowledge you, I feel you, and I applaud you for continuing to be that hope and light for kids.

Thank you, Tara, and thanks to all of the educators who are working to comfort their communities.

Photos by AdamParent and Ronniechua via Pixabay

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  1. Mike Urbanek says:

    You’re correct, Mike: the simple solutions don’t work. I’m afraid some people don’t remember that.

    The Buffalo killer was mentally ill, and enough people knew it in time to prevent it – in the state with arguable the toughest gun laws in the country. The Waukeshau killer was mentally ill, a habitual criminal, and his driver’s license should have been revoked, right? But that wouldn’t have stopped him from killing six and hurting dozens more, would it? And the mentally ill Uvalde killer was all over the internet displaying hate. No one did anything about it.

    Last week a mentally ill man in Charleston, West Virginia was acting irrationally near the location of a birthday party and was asked to vacate the premises. He returned with an AK 47 with certain intent to wreak havoc and fired his weapon. A lawfully armed woman stopped him (forever). If she wasn’t present, it would have prompted yet another outcry against those who defend themselves legally and honorably. You won’t hear about that incident on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, The NY Times, WAPO, or the LA Times. Doesn’t fit the narrative.

    We can talk – if EVERYTHING is on the table. If that doesn’t happen, it’s all a waste of time. I’m willing. I think you would be, too.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks for your comment here, Mike. I don’t think it’s all or nothing. Compromise can start with the edges. Let’s keep talking.


    Spot on!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Dr. Dan.

  3. Rosy says:

    This was a hard one for us, my daughter is in 4th grade and her class has 19 students. She’s old enough that we can’t hide the dangers of the world from her. We talked to her about how important it is to vote and that laws and the constitution can be changed. I spoke to her teacher, who had made space in the day for the kids to talk about it, and to see how he was doing. I love where we live and I love our family life, but I can understand why people would make the choice to move to countries with more enlightened gun laws.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks, Rosy. We did not deal with this back when you were in high school. Our kids are experiencing a different world. It sounds like you and your daughter’s teacher are doing everything right, but it’s not easy. Thanks for commenting.

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