Some time ago my colleagues and I at a large education organization spent time considering the difference between the words “each” and “every” as we crafted a statement for a major education project. We were all familiar with phrases like “every child can learn,” and even the new “Every Student Succeeds Act,” but we thought there was power in using the word “each” instead. (You already know that I am a word snob, so this kind of discussion should not be surprising.)
In the end, we (okay, maybe I) decided that, like a zoom lens on a camera, sometimes the word “every” leads us to take a broad look at a whole group so that a goal like “every student will improve in their mastery of something really important” ends up being assessed by looking at the whole, rather than the individual. At best, it gets split into subgroups. Somehow “every” gets translated into “most.” It becomes a general term rather than specific. Not every time, but too often for our comfort.
The word “each,” on the other hand, requires a student by student look. It zooms in on individual needs and accomplishments. We ended up talking about each student, in each school, in each community and found that it led us to customized action.
All of that was rolling around in my mind when I watched this extraordinary new video from Sandy Hook Promise. The video presents a really thought-provoking look at how easy it is to get distracted from each, to see only what is most obvious, or, perhaps, most appealing. It stopped me in my tracks, in part because I am supposed to know better and still fell for it. It stopped me in my tracks because it was not just clear that I missed a threat, but that I missed a young person in need of help and that misses like that have real consequences.
It feels truly significant that this video was put out by Sandy Hook Promise. I am struck by the potential of the clip to focus on blame, particularly considering the pain which must still be so raw for the entire Sandy Hook community. Yet, I find it almost empathetic. Their point feels like encouragement to me to see the role I can play in preventing any repeat of that tragedy without wallowing in blame that it happened in the first place. When they say, “know the signs,” I think they are asking each of us who works with children and young people to pay attention when one of them is hurting, angry, isolated, so that we can help.
I needed this reminder, this wake up call to renewed awareness that when we say “live love, teach peace, and fight unfairness wherever it exists”, we mean it for each child, in each school, in each of our communities. We have to be diligent. We have to be caring. Each of us, for each of them.
President and CEO