Today was October 1, 2013 — the day that our nation’s government shut down, essentially laying off over one million hard-working American citizens in the name of a political genitalia-measuring contest. It was a dark day for many. A sad day for some. An embarrassing day for others.
It was a different kind of day for me.
Now before I continue, let me first explain something. Yes, this is a football website. I started it almost one year ago with the intent of blogging about all things football. My rule for myself and anyone who writes for the site is simple: just make sure it can be traced back to the game of American football. Sometimes you gotta break your own rules, but we’ll see how it goes.
As I was saying, today was different. Most days, I’m up at 6 am and out the door by 7 am to head to my job on Offutt Air Force Base, just south of Omaha, Nebraska. I’m the non-commissioned officer in-charge of the team of IT specialists who provide computer support to the hard working people of the Air Force Weather Agency. My boss is a DoD Civilian. He was sent home today until further notice — without pay.
This morning, I woke up at 7 am to go volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school — with my boss’s prior approval — and participate in the Watch D.O.G.S. program. The D-O-G-S stands for “Dads of Great Students.” It is a national program with the intent of getting fathers more involved in their own kids’ lives by volunteering in sort of a hybrid role-model/security guard position. You interact with the students, help them in class, eat with them, play during recess with them and secure the perimeter of the school periodically. My military background came in handy for securing the perimeter. It did nothing to prepare me for the rest of what I would encounter.
My day started with the school’s principal, a guy about my age by the name of Ryan, inviting all students and faculty to the gym for a surprise assembly. Once there, I saw representatives from a national office supply store interacting with the principal in preparation for what now appeared to be some sort of an award presentation.
As Principal Ryan began to speak and explain to the attendees of the ceremony what was happening, I couldn’t help but notice the 200 or so kids — ages 3-12 — sitting quietly, listening and behaving. As he went on, he explained that one of the teachers was being honored for going above and beyond her duties. She went out of her way to help students and co-workers, often dipping into her own pockets to purchase supplies and equipment for what appeared to be an already well funded school. They announced the teacher’s name and the kids cheered while the adults — including myself — got a little teary eyed. She was shocked and according to everyone’s reaction, she was loved.
I had a chance to speak with her later in the day. She told me that while she was listening to the kind words being said, not yet knowing they were about her, she thought they could have been talking about any number of teachers at the school. Considering one of my own kids goes there, that made me feel pretty good.
After the ceremony, it was time to start interacting with the kids. As I walked through the hallways, I was blown away by what I saw. Kids were listening. They were polite — to me, their teachers and each other. They were happy to be there and excited to learn no matter the age or grade.
One of the things that sets this specific school apart from its peers is the fact that it is the only elementary school in the district equipped to handle children with special needs. Because of this, every special needs child in the district attended this school alongside other children, integrated and equal. That alone was pretty cool to me. When I got into the classrooms, it got even cooler.
There were kids of every race and certainly several religions learning together, side-by-side with the children with special needs, almost ignorant to each other’s differences. The interaction between the kids during recess stood out. Race was non-existent. Disabilities disappeared. Kids were included, not excluded. They adapted, not because they’d been taught to, but because they were never taught not to. It was a miniature melting pot of race, culture and individuality — and it worked. It was a well oiled machine, the likes I’ve only seen when the mud hits the fan on the other side of the globe and America’s best go into action.
And then I got angry.
I was angry because this is not the America we are fed by the 24-hour news networks, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and whatever other new media we’ve decided to get our information from. Those outlets have put our nation on a steady diet of tragedy, disappointment and follies. Those outlets are teaching us to fear what is happening in our country and our world. Those outlets are capitalizing off the culture of fear and intolerance that is bread by the same political nonsense that led to today’s shutdown. Everyone wants to scare you into taking their side, building numbers and followers for that previously mentioned genitalia-measuring contest.
Today I saw the real America. Today I saw teachers who cared about their jobs as much as any soldier I’ve ever served with cares about theirs. That’s good to know, considering the assets they are responsible for are just as important as the ones our men and women in uniform guard with loaded weapons.
You hear it all the time, but the kids are the future and from what I can see, America’s future is in great hands. These kids are better than we were because we are better parents than our parents were. That’s not to say our parents were bad. Our parents were great. They were better than their parents and so on and so forth. We’ve evolved into a nation of good people who are raising good people and we’ve gotten better at it with the passing of every generation. When you see those stories of tragedy and malice on the news and they are used to define our society and times, you must be able to brush it all aside and see only the ground truth.
We live in a great country in a great world during great times. Nothing is perfect, nor will it ever be, but we evolve and improve and get better with every day. Our children ,the teachers who teach them and we as parents are evidence of that no matter what the news tells you.
October 1st, 2013 will go down as a “bad day” to many. Don’t let yourself become one of the many. Believe in the good because it is out there and it is winning.
I saw something beautiful in America today. I saw our future.
Oh, and Ryan, the principal of my daughter’s elementary school — he moonlights as a high school football referee.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON OCTOBER 1st, 2013