Is Christa McAuliffe possible today?
This question has been pulling at my heart after a week of looking back at her pictures, her words, her story. I don’t like the answer I’ve arrived at.
I do not think a Christa McAuliffe, once an inspiration to all of America, is possible today. Not because of who she was. But because of who we have become.
What are the qualities that emerge again and again in reviewing the public evidence of McAuliffe’s character?
First and foremost, she was a public school teacher. An enthusiastic one. Someone who made it look thrilling to be in front of a classroom. Someone who considered it her life’s work. Someone whose total focus in being given the privilege of a trip in space was to motivate children to learn, to explore, to discover.
Whom do we have like that today? Whom does the leadership of this nation lift up to be a symbol of that kind of public servant in the way that Christa McAuliffe once captured our hearts?
We don’t. Teachers are demonized on the one hand, and on the other presumed to be in that position because of a failure to achieve some other type of “better” work.
Christa’s unabashed love of teaching, her joyful service to children, her genuine, cheerful personality - it all comes across loud and clear through a quarter century of distance from the tragedy that ended her time on earth.
But today I envision Glenn Beck taking an innocuous statement of hers like “I have a vision of the world as a global village, a world without boundaries,” and vilifying her for it. And Rush Limbaugh attacking NASA for putting a teacher into space. And Sarah Palin mocking the President for the meaningful amount of money invested in what would become a tragic accident.
The public discourse today is dominated by the small and the mean and the self-serving. Government is the enemy, and investing in our future and our children mocked. We have become a nation that has no higher purpose than personal material gain.
Christa McAuliffe and the values of exploration and service she embodied stand miles above what we have become. In her boundless excitement and interest in using the shuttle trip to excite children towards learning you see the possibility of what we can be. And in the mission for which she was chosen you see the what it is for a nation to be magnanimous.
Twenty-five years ago Concord High lost one of its best teachers. Because of the platform our government at the time had the courage and dignity to give her, America gained a vision.
The number of Christa McAuliffes adding to the vitality of our country has only grown since then. What has diminished is our capacity to see them.