Dawn, The Teachers Rise
June 21, 2001
by William Rivers Pitt
"In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes
tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion,
the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something
more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be
the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest
cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized
jobs." - Daniel J. Boorstin
One of the hardest truths to face as a member of this American
society is that change requires enormous amounts of time and
effort. One cannot simply wish something into existence, even
if that wish is for an idea or a reform that appears patently
necessary. The seas are rising, the polar caps are retreating,
the earth is warming, the coral reefs are dying, the air is
filling with CO2, the cities are choking on smog…one must
come to face the truth that, even when presented with such
glaring catastrophes, it will likely require a lifetime of
sweat to even scratch the surface of a solution.
We all know why. Who am I when compared to Enron Corporation?
What are my resources? What is my capacity to do combat with
such a monolithically wealthy foe? How can I possibly defeat
those who profit wildly without care for the consequences?
Where do I even begin?
The end result of this line of questioning is inevitable
and disheartening. We lose interest, for who among us can
climb Mt. Everest? We cease to care, for caring becomes too
painful when, despite our passion and our work, we know at
the beginning that we are assured of failure. We become convinced
of our inadequacy, of our powerlessness. We are tamed by the
belief that one person truly cannot make a difference. We
live and work and die and are buried burdened with the failure
to act, despite the hard belief that any actions would have
come to naught. We are broken very early, and we seldom heal.
The shattering of idealism happens during our youth, somewhere
in the gulf between seeing the need for change and understanding
what bringing that change requires. No one is better equipped
to expose an injustice than a teenager. They are pure of mind
and spirit, and have yet to face the bruising compromises
that mark the path to adulthood. From this plateau of purity
they can see far, and are not yet poisoned by the leaching
of confidence in the very idea of change.
Teenagers are, however, even more utterly powerless than
the rest of us. They stew in the cauldron of adolescence,
outraged by the world but unable to do much of anything about
it. Even the strongest youth eventually pulls the plug sooner
or later. It is simply too painful to care so much while being
capable of so little. Thus, when they finally reach a place
where they can actually accomplish something, they are finished
with the thought of even trying.
This is a generalization, to be sure. There are legions of
people in America who did not disconnect, who rise every day
and wage the fight for change, who have not suffered the final
crisis. But these people are vastly outnumbered by those who
have died on the road to Damascus.
The world is as it is today because so many have lost the
belief that they are in fact the heart and soul of this country,
that in their combined strength they can rout utterly the
forces that cage us, steal our rights and our natural legacy.
So much evil happens in broad daylight and is ignored with
a shrug. This is the way it is. Who am I to think I can change
If I have painted here a portrait in colors of utter bleakness
and despair, it is because we must recognize our common plight.
Before change can happen on a national scale, or on a global
scale, it must happen in the hearts and minds of individuals.
We must never, ever surrender to the belief that we are powerless.
If we do so, we are already defeated.
We must wake with the knowledge that we will certainly fail
in our quest, yet we must square our shoulders and meet the
day and our duty, for to do less is to admit that what is
happening now in our country and our world is acceptable.
Silence equals consent. Freedom begins when we say, "No."
There are too many days that have passed when I succumbed
to the siren song of that silent complicity. I look out at
a world that has been trained to never look beyond personal
need. I see a lion named The American People that has been
brought to heel because it believes it has no claws, no fangs,
no strength of heart and soul. I have passed days when the
very thought of awakening that great beast to its potential
stills me, for I know the strength and guile of its trainer.
I was awakened this week to a memory that I intend to keep
with me for as long as I live. That memory is of exploring
a cave out in South Dakota. In the center of that dark cavern
was a rock with a deep depression dug into its core. The cave
guide told me that the depression was created by drops of
water falling from the ceiling high above. The drops fell
about once a day, and had been doing so for thousands of years.
Over time, the unyielding stone had been worn away.
I think of the weakness of water against the strength of
rock, and I consider which had prevailed.
I am a teacher. I tend the flame of youth. I am tasked with
more than the rote delivery of Shakespeare, vocabulary, grammar,
and history. I am tasked with the duty of making teenagers
care about the status of their minds and hearts. It is my
duty to remind them, every day, that their claws and fangs,
while in miniature, are sharp and will become sharper still.
I am burdened with the assignment of ensuring that they do
not disconnect. I am warmed by the knowledge that, thus far,
I have succeeded far more often than I have failed.
I am the drop of water falling from that high ceiling. I
have this week been reminded that I am not alone. I stand
with Paul, and with Judy, and with Theresa, and Jillian, and
Philip, and Cathy. I stand with T-Bone from Cincinnati, with
Rebecca from Washington D.C., with Peter from Los Angeles.
I stand with Chad, with Gary, with Aaron. I stand, and they
stand with me.
At dawn, the teachers rise. They go forth in hope, and hold
high by their own personal example the belief that to care
is to succeed. They toil against stony indifference, they
wear away the rock one drip at a time. It does not matter
that their political views do not always meld. In the end,
it matters only that they rise.
If you need a hero, an example to emulate, look to my compatriots.
They are the finest example of patience and endurance you
will ever need to find. They care, and thus they prevail.
We are out here, we happy few. When you despair, remember
us. When you wish to surrender, remember us. When you cannot
imagine a way in which your voice or your desire for change
will ever make a difference, remember us. We move out into
the world, one drip at a time, and we make change with squared
shoulders and hope ever on our lips.
We say to you, tamed lion, that caring is an act of defiance
which you are still capable of.
Remember this at dawn when you rise. You are not alone.