May 26, 2010

My Friend Colin

I just finished watching My Sister's Keeper. Talk about tough. For those of you who haven't seen it, be prepared to cry. The storyline centers around a girl with cancer (leukemia to be specific). She is a daughter, and a sister.

Cancer. I don't know if there is a more powerful word in the human language. It is a word that strikes fear and emotion deep into the heart of everyone that hears it. And why? Perhaps it is because everyone of us, every single one, has been affected by it. And it's not so much that somebody close to us died from it as it is we know somebody who has had it. We have all seen it (some closer to it than others). For me, it's not the physical ugliness of the disease or the threat of death that grips me, but the struggle it possesses. If you have ever been close to cancer, you know that it is a long, hard, emotionally draining battle. A battle that nestles deep within your heart and mind. It is, for lack of a better description - like being dragged through hell...or watching somebody being dragged through hell and being powerless to help.

About 3/4 of the way through the movie something struck me: why do we not have schools that are dedicated to finding a cure? Stick with me here. Elementary schools, high schools. Why don't these schools exist? And not just cancer, issues plaguing humanity. Why don't we have schools whose mission statements are to find solutions to these issues?

We have schools that prep students for business careers, sports careers, etc.. These schools are specific. I have had friends that attended "hockey school". Why not "cancer school"? Is there not a demand for this sort of thing? Is becoming a successful businessperson or hockey player more important than finding a cure for cancer?

And then another idea struck me, and another, and another. Now the rest of this will not make sense because I have not worked through it yet. We know that there is a push for educational reform. We also know that this push is being met with much hostility. After all, schools are one of the hardest institutions to change. Driving this push is the center and most important issue. It is an issue that often gets overlooked and buried: connectedness.

Our students today are connecting with others in ways that we not too long ago only dreamed of. Partly because we are ignorant and partly because we are stubborn, we tend to "ignore" this issue. We need to dive deep into the world of connectedness. We need to embrace and encourage it, and not just write it off as "technology". We need to do this because it is important, not just for our students, but for humanity. It is within this connected world that "cancer schools" will appear. I think you understand this...if not, try harder.

One final story. When I was in high school a good friend of mine received some horrible news. He had cancer. It was very tough for him and everyone involved. The doctors gave him a 20% chance to live. Luckily, he made it. I remember talking to him on the phone and having to wait while he threw up. He often was too weak to talk so he would sit there and listen to us. If we were at a friend's house, we would put him on speaker phone for the entire night - just so he felt like he was there. Today, we might use something like Skype.

I once asked him if he was afraid. His response - I'm lonely. He wasn't afraid of the disease, or dying. He was afraid of facing it alone. He later told me that he found strength only after he met others in his situation. But up until that time, and even when he would come home, he felt alone. I would hope that today it would be easier for him to find support in our connected world.

His older brother told me about their visits with Colin in the hospital. They would stay there all night. Even though visiting hours had long passed. And then he said something that still touches me to this day: "the doctors could see that the term 'visiting hours' did not apply to us'. In that statement he was able to sum up every emotion contained within that one battle. So, I leave you with this: as educators let us show the world that "visiting hours" do not apply.

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