Published June 16, 2022
By Lib Campbell
Fourth grade of Elementary School is a pivotal year. Children are on the cusp of adolescence, becoming more social, beginning to realize all they can do as their interests and gifts become more self-evident.
My sister was a fourth-grade teacher for most of her career. She talked about her students being just the perfect age, old enough to sit still and eager enough to please a teacher. They were not yet belligerent teen-agers, but still child enough to be formed.
At Ayden Elementary School, in the 1950s, fourth grade was the year geography was taught. My teacher gave each of us a big sheet of cardboard. The instruction was to fold the cardboard and make a suitcase out of it. Each state, each country, each continent we visited, we put our papers and drawings in our suitcases, so we could remember where we had gone.
My son’s fourth grade teacher was pure magic in his life. She saw giftedness in him, and an ability to grasp concepts and nuanced humor on a very mature level. She said having him in her classroom was like having another adult in the room. She changed his life.
In Uvalde, Texas, many of the children gunned down at Robb Elementary were fourth graders. The teacher and co-teacher of those fourth graders died trying to shield their students. It was awards day at school. Pictures of the students holding up their honor roll certificates showed faces shining and smiling for the recognition they had earned both in the classroom and on the ball field. It should have been a glorious day.
Another 18-year-old bought assault weapons. First, he shot his grandmother, then he went to the school where at least 19 students and 2 teachers were cold-bloodedly gunned down. Surreal… except, wasn’t it just last week that another 18-year-old boy shot and killed 10 people shopping in a Tops Grocery Store? Coincidence? Or epidemic?
I grew up in a rural town. I knew boys with rifles. They shot rats at the dump, and rabbits, and deer in season. They drove around with gun racks on their trucks. I am not anti-gun. But Daddy never owned a gun. My husband has not owned guns. I have shot a rifle one time. It bruised my shoulder. I did not take to the rifle thing.
One of my dear neighbors was the mother of three young sons. One afternoon, she got a call from another neighbor down the street. “There’s been an accident. Your son is hurt.” She left her house thinking her son must have fallen off his bike. Maybe he had broken his arm. If only that had been the accident. Her son and his young friend had found guns, loaded guns, and were playing cowboy when Cameron got shot. He was killed instantly. Such sadness should never come to parents who send their children to play or to school. The gun killed him.
Greg Abbott, Republican Governor of Texas, along with Republican Senator Ted Cruz, held the party line in the news conference that followed the event. “Guns don’t kill; people kill.” We got reminded of the numbers of people killed by gunfire in Chicago and Los Angeles and New York. There is no shortage of death by guns in the United States. Beto O’Rourke and Steve Kerr sounded their alarm and anger with passion and clarity. This violence must stop.
The question becomes, is holding a political position more important than the lives of fourth graders, or third graders or second and first graders? It must be, or every person in every position of power would be getting gun safety legislation on the books. There simply is not the political will to chart a different course regarding guns. This is not a political issue, this is an issue of basic humanity. Who can even sleep at night if a few small steps around gun safety could save lives?
No fourth graders from Ms. Mireles’ class will be entering fifth grade at Robb Elementary next fall. Nor will third graders be entering Ms. Mirele’s fourth grade class ever again. Such loss of potential and possibility in senseless killing is more than shameful, it is pure sin.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist Pastor, columnist and retreat leader. She blogs at www.avirtualchurch.com. Lib can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org