Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Bona Fide Hero

Once in a while you have to praise yourself if it’s going to be done at all!
by Charlie Leck

Back in 1993 a letter came into our house one autumn evening. It was addressed to our daughter, who, at that time, would have been 9 years old. At the dinner table that night, she tore it open and looked at it and then up at her mother and me. She was confused. She passed the letter over to me.

It had come in from the local school district superintendent. It brought tears to my eyes. It's probably immodest to share it with you, but… well, sometimes one just needs to praise oneself.

The bigger reason, however, is that it will tell you something about why it’s worth it to work very hard on an election now and then.

Here’s an account I wrote about this incident only a few days after it had happened (and it includes the text of the letter).

Education may not be everything, but it is nearly so. Our family has been fortunate in this regard. Our children experienced the opportunity to attend outstanding primary and secondary schools. There, I think, they were taught how to learn. As I look at them now, grown and being tested by the examinations of the real world, I can see they were served well by the schools they attended. As I ripen, swelling more wizen and much sager (a claim which age allows us to make), I place increased emphasis on the importance of a sound education.

Here in my town, the public schools are struggling to improve the quality of the instruction they can offer our community’s children. It is an expensive proposition. Schools are in competition for good teachers. The cost of maintaining a physical plant has risen dramatically in the last twenty years. Computer technology classes have become a necessity and the equipment needed to teach these subjects is very costly. So, public school districts are constantly searching for more funds. That, obviously, always means higher taxes for residents.

Our family took a stand about this issue recently. Though we have no children in the public school system here, we decided to fight to approve a school funding referendum for the district. The same referendum proposition had been badly beaten in the previous election. It did not seem to us to be fair that the kids in my town were being denied the kind of instruction, curriculum and equipment that children in neighboring towns were already taking for granted.

For two months I labored day and night on a publicity campaign to convince the district’s voters to increase their own taxes for the sake of our community’s kids. I thought the issue was vital and I worked as diligently as I could to see that the referendum passed. And, succeed we did. When the votes were counted, the sense of victory was sweet.

This essay, however, is not about education. And, it is not about political campaigning. I write now of heroes. Who are they? What are they?

A few days after the votes were counted, our nine-year-old, Cynthia, received a letter from the superintendent of the school district. I can only hope Cynthia understood the brief letter and its thesis about real heroes. I understood! It made me feel proud and gratified. I will end today’s entry in my journal by quoting from the letter.

First of all let me thank you for sharing some of your Mom and Dad’s time this summer. The time they spent working on the school referendum was probably not very exciting for you, but it was very important to all the families with children.

If I asked you to name your heroes or heroines, you may think of someone famous like Michael Jordan, Kirby Puckett, or Whitney Houston. Yet, real heroes or heroines sacrifice their own time, resources and personal comfort for the benefit of others. Real heroes volunteer their talents to improve the welfare of children and society in general.

One definition of a hero is someone with the type of noble character which can accomplish remarkable action. This describes your parents.

We were successful in passing the referendum because your parents stepped forward to provide their talents, resources and time to improve future opportunities for all children.

Cynthia, I also want you to know that I have never seen anyone work as hard as your Dad to accomplish something which offered so little in direct benefit or recognition to himself. He was terrific!

We look forward to a better future due to the actions of your parents. I am very proud of your Mom and Dad. I hope you are too.

I must say, on the evening the votes were counted, I felt very much like a hero. I went to bat for hundreds of children. It took an enormous effort and I was drained for weeks from it, but it was a sweet, sweet victory for the kids of this district. I am walking taller about town these days, proud of all those neighbors who bit the bullet and agreed to raise their own taxes.

I was extremely nice of the school-super to write the letter and it pleased me greatly.


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  1. Very nice post, Charlie. Education and teachers that touch lives are the foundation of our communities. We have been very fortunate to have such involved families and teachers. Lynn