This I Believe

Valerie - Rockford, Illinois
Entered on October 17, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: peace

Every (Violent) Step Will Show

This I believe. . . Teach peace by example, for every violent step will show.

I attended a country school conference in the Midwest this summer, where I heard an educational researcher speak about Amish one-room schoolhouses. I hurried to order his book, a culmination of 20 years of study on Amish culture and rural education. I read it cover to cover and again in bits and pieces; I was energized by the simplicity and effectiveness of their one-room school system within a tightly knit community of people with shared values. For me the reading was an anecdote to the apathy that washes over me when I hear yet another blathering bureaucrat talk about accountability in education or a myopic politician declare war on a social problem or enigmatic enemy.

The pacifist convictions of the Amish and other Anabaptists are in part what make them such an object of curiosity and even awe to me when I long for escape from the barrage of injurious words and images that permeate mainstream society. So it was with a heavy heart this October 2006 that I listened to a bellicose roll call of victims of school violence, culminating into a horrific accounting against some of the last people on earth who stand apart from violence.

But now even the Amish aren’t safe.

I recently met an old veteran during a World War II Days reenactment. Sitting in his wheelchair at a USO dance, war medals decorating his drab green hat and coat, he took my hand and said, “It wasn’t really like this . . . it wasn’t this nice,” referring to the fun we were all having dressed up in 1940’s military and civilian garb, listening to early jazz and swing music. “It was awful, especially in the infantry,” he said. Then he implored me to do something to stop any more wars from happening.

I told him I would. So, I wrote this.

Teaching by example is as old as the rural land the Amish occupy. Step by step we go. Violence has now reached its tentacles into an older and ordered society that sought to protect itself from the larger world and its concomitant aggression. Its violation is particularly mournful to me. So I refuse to patronize violence in any way I can. I won’t watch movies that contain violence, for example. I would rather watch my steps. I would rather strive to teach by example.

Amish classrooms post aphorisms or guiding principles for students to reflect on as they quietly do their reading, writing and arithmetic. Here’s one I like to ponder: The future lies before us like a sheet of fallen snow. Be careful how you tread it, for every step will show.