Let Free Ring!

Let Free Ring!

It's a new school year, a new world, and a new chance to lead.

I'm taking time out to reflect, and I invite you to do the same. No doubt you can remember where you were the morning of September 11. I was in Washington D.C., in my hotel room catching up on e-mail. It was the last day of a conference for education technology executives, and I was anxious to wrap things up and get to the airport for my late morning flight.

Then everything changed. My cell phone rang and my brother-in-law said something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I pictured a small private plane with engine trouble-an unavoidable accident.

I wondered if it would disrupt my travel plans since I had to fly past New York to get home. Moments later I watched in disbelief as the second plane deliberately flew into the majestic sky scraper. That was a commercial jet. This was no accident.

Speculation spewed from the TV about other hijacked planes in the air. I'd just looked out my window toward the Washington Monument and everything was clear. I looked again and the landscape was quickly filling with billowing black smoke. The voice on TV said it was the Pentagon. Additional commercial-jets-turned-missile were heading for the White House or U.S. Capitol.

I tried to phone home. It was no surprise that I couldn't get out on my cell phone, but when I couldn't get a connection on the hotel room phone, I got an eerie feeling. What was happening anyway? Was I dreaming? I just knew I didn't want to be alone.

A quick trip downstairs confirmed the horrible truth. My colleagues stood in stunned silence, staring at the lobby TVs as the events unfolded, the darkest moments of fear and uncertainty coming when the towers fell.

That day, a special, unanticipated bond formed among those of us attending the conference. Many of us will be together later this month for a similar conference, and the main topic will inevitably be reflections of the experiences we shared on 9/11.

Freedom Rings!

Why write about this here? Despite the billions of words already written about September 11 and the war on terrorism, I want to add this small voice to encourage you to reflect on those events as we begin this new school year. Many of us have never experienced war-time patriotism in action. Sure, we had Vietnam, but that was a divisive war, leaving patriotism more trampled than triumphant. The Gulf War spawned patriotic support, but it was a short war and far away.

This war is different, incited on our soil by an unseen enemy, targeting civilians and U.S. landmarks. On the one hand it naturally makes us feel uneasy and vulnerable. We were quickly jerked out of the security of our routines. It really hit me when someone pointed out the commuter lots near our Norwalk, Conn., offices where numerous cars sat for days after the attacks. The New York City commuters never returned. We continue to endure extra security at airports and sporting events.

But there is a bright side. Freedom rings louder than I've ever heard in my lifetime. We're living history as it happens. "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" is a sentiment that matters again. That's exciting.

Our new school year dawns on a changed world, but from that we can draw strength and resolve. American democracy-with individual liberty its cornerstone-is special. It's worth defending, it's worth promoting and it's worth teaching with renewed vigor. This year the pursuit of reading, writing and arithmetic can be under girded by a living, breathing, ongoing civics lesson. Fan the patriotic flame.

I encourage you to take time out to reflect on the events of last September. Then act. Be bold in the initiatives you take this year and beyond. Our unique time in history grants us opportunities. We all know that today's students become tomorrow's adults: tomorrow's firemen and policemen; tomorrow's little league coaches and auto mechanics; tomorrow's clergymen, mayors and corporate chiefs; and yes, tomorrow's teachers and school administrators. So let's reflect, and let's use all of the resources at our disposal to equip them to become the next great generation. Let freedom ring!


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