“He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.” Walter Lippmann
Consider the soldier, police officer, fire fighter, and educator. One of these things is not like the others. Most people would choose the educator as the odd person out, but that needs to change. Children are sent to school with the understanding that they will return home, safe and sound, none the worse for wear, aside from homework. Yet are today’s educators up to the task? Is it the responsibility of the educator to protect their students, or is it something that should be outsourced? The protection of children entrusted to us is education’s primary responsibility. That’s been lost, because for quite some time it wasn’t needed. Clearly it is needed now, and too many educators are too quick to pass the responsibility off to the police. Rather then police patrolling halls what we need in our schools are sheepdogs.
Why a Sheepdog and what do we mean by the term? In his book, “On Combat”, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Dave Grossman quotes a Vietnam veteran and a retired colonel, who classified people into three types: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. LTC Grossman went on to write, “We know that the sheep live in denial, which is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids' schools…But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid's school.” (On Combat) In schools, we have the predators and the prey, and they aren’t always the students. Grossman describes a wolf, “If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf.” The news, almost everyday, carries a story of wolves in schools, and what they do to children. Bullying, drugs, and gangs threaten our children. Often even teachers are the targets.
That leaves the sheepdog. Grossman wrote, “But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.” Is it possible to be an educator, and be what LTC Grossman describes? The answer is yes, and it is at the same time both easy and difficult to do.
Becoming a sheepdog is best achieved if you believe in the reason for the change, if you have something to believe in. In the Roman Catholic religion, saints personify a particular aspect of being human that is to be emulated. For example, St. George is the Patron Saint of soldiers, while St. Michael is the Patron Saint of police officers. The man who should be the Patron Saint of sheepdogs is Rick Rescorla. Rick’s picture was featured on the cover of the book “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” by General Hal Moore and Rick Galloway. Rick served in the British Army, enlisted in the US Army, and fought in the Battle of Ia Drang, Vietnam, chronicled in Moore’s and Galloway’s book. During the battle, he sang Cornish martial songs to keep up his troop’s morale.
After he retired from the Army, he became Vice President of Security for Morgan
Stanley/Dean Witter, housed in the World Trade Center(WTC). He was there in 1993 for the first attack, and his actions, along with his foresight and preparation, saved the lives of 2,700 people. He pushed, cajoled, and wheedled employees to practice evacuations. When the building authorities gave safety directives that were not the best, he ignored them and continued to drill his employees, cheerfully ignoring their protests.
He was there in 2001, on the day when the twin towers were attacked in the manner he had predicted. When the building authorities told everyone to stay put, he once again used his cheerful, forceful personality to get the employees to disregard the bad instructions. The employees of Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter used the protocols he developed and relentlessly drilled into them to successfully evacuate the tower, all the while listening to his singing of Cornish martial songs.
All but six of Morgan Stanley's 2,700 WTC employees survived. Four of those six were Rescorla and three deputies who followed him back into the building; Wesley Mercer, Jorge Velazquez, and Godwin Forde. (Time Magazine, June 9, 2008). Rescorla’s honor cost him his life, a cost he gladly paid. When told he needed to evacuate as well, he replied, "As soon as I make sure everyone else is out." Rick lived his life, and gave his life with honor. He was a man that is an outstanding example for all sheepdogs.
Rick Rescorla did not stand back and let things happen. He saw what needed to be done, and he did it. He constantly made a choice, even if he knew it would cost him, because he knew it was the right choice. If Rick witnessed an accident, he would have stopped to help. If it came down to a choice between inaction and doing something that was hard, but right, Rick would choose the right thing.
Sheepdogs live by a code. This code guides them, and is the basis for the decisions and choices they make in life. Many warrior societies live by their codes. The Samurai lived by Bushido; medieval knights lived by the Chivalric Code. These codes are a collection of attributes that the member uses to emulate the behavior cherished.
Mark Mireles is a former Marine, an organization of warriors with their own Code. He is also a two-time recipient of a Medal of Valor while a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, and a recipient of the Carnegie Medal, the highest civilian award for heroism in the US and Canada. He has developed what he calls the Ten Warrior Virtues. (Warriors, pp. 57-68) These virtues can be practiced by anyone, but they should be lived by sheepdogs.
The first Warrior Virtue is Discipline. Mireles describes discipline as doing what you may not want to do. It is as much mental as it is physical. It will also help a sheepdog do things that need to be done, and persevere through all sorts of adversity. To be effective, a sheepdog’s discipline must be self-directed. A lot of things that need to be done to keep children safe require time and effort. Every day when you arrive at your school, do you walk around and make sure everything is secured, and ready to go? This should be done one or two other times during the day, because people will leave doors propped open, leave doors unlocked, or leave valuables lying around, unsecured. Discipline is needed to make sure duties like this get done, even when the sheepdog would like to do other things.
The second Warrior Virtue is Action. When bad things happen, sheepdogs act. They move toward the danger, not away. Action can sometimes lead to mistakes, but the sheepdog treats mistakes as learning opportunities. Action can occur in many ways, whether by direct personal action, or delegation to others. However, a sheepdog is always responsible for their actions and the actions of those under their authority. With discipline, sheepdogs take action, even on things they don’t want to do, but have to be done. A sheepdog would never ask others to take an action they wouldn’t do themselves.
The third Warrior Virtue is Knowledge. Sheepdogs value general knowledge, as well as specific knowledge that pertain to their job. General knowledge helps the sheepdog understand the world around them, as well as the minds of those they serve with, and work against. When it comes to acting on knowledge, the sheepdog always tries to keep it simple. When it comes to school safety, the sheepdog has to know everything about school safety. Partial knowledge can hurt people.
The fourth Warrior Virtue is Nobility. The decision a sheepdog makes to serve others is a noble one, but Mireles describes nobility in regards to how sheepdogs relate to others. Sheepdogs care for all people, and have a deep respect for all humanity. Yet the sheepdog is ready to do violence to protect those in its care, when violence is called for. At Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colorado, David Benke heard the shots that were killing his students. He went toward the sounds of the shots, tackled the shooter, and with another teacher’s help restrained him until the police arrived. (Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2010) Nobility includes showing respect to all. “Respect comes from caring about the cause, possessing the right attitude, and demonstrating the right behavior toward others, the good and the evil.” (Warriors, pp. 61-62) Sheepdogs serve others because of that respect, and that respect should guide all of their decisions.
The fifth Warrior Virtue is Work Ethic. This entails a belief in getting the job done, whether it is an easy job or a hard one. Perseverance is a valuable trait for this virtue. The job is often hard, smelly, and demanding, yet it has to be done. Army grunts refer to this time as “suck it up time,” often in answer to someone’s griping about the job. It is that simple, and yet often so hard. The other side of the work ethic is getting the job done right. There may be limited resources, personal demands of time and effort, and yet the sheepdog sucks it up and gets it done, whether it involves sacrifice, or just getting to work everyday.
The sixth Warrior Virtue is Testing. A sheepdog is constantly testing himself, making himself inured to conflict by constantly placing himself in controlled conflict. Sheep do not care to think ‘what if?’ but a sheepdog makes that part of his everyday existence. Failure during testing is not a sign of weakness, but a symptom of a problem that needs correction. When you test, test as you would perform. If all you do during fire drills is line the children up, take them outside, and then walk them back in when it’s over, you are violating this virtue, as very little gets tested by this practice. Use as much realism as you can provide to train your people. During fire drills, block exits, and do the drills during passing periods, bus drop-off, lunch, and during most weather. Sometimes ‘take’ a kid to check awareness and accountability. Have the teacher kick off the drill by coming into the classroom and announcing, “You smell smoke! What do you do?” The teacher must locate the alarm, simulate pulling it, go back to their room and evacuate their children. Test like you would perform for real.
The seventh Warrior Virtue is Gameness. This means performing well under pressure. This is achieved through proper training and preparation, but can only be measured under pressure. Mireles talks of those who practice well, but don’t perform under pressure, versus those who practice all right, but perform well under pressure. Gameness is being faced with something out of the realm of preparation, and adapting to it and appropriately responding. The first responders in New York City on 9/11 were not prepared for two planes striking the World Trade Center, yet they adapted and responded, some at the expense of their lives.
The eighth Warrior Virtue is Bravery. Mireles describes this as the one that people think of when they think of sheepdogs. He describes an act of bravery he saw as a child in 1982. Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac River, killing 79 people. A female survivor was in the frigid waters trying to stay afloat as a helicopter hovered overhead. Lenny Skutnik, a federal office worker, took off his overcoat and his shoes, and dove into the river, swam out to where she had sunk, found her, brought her back up to the surface, and kept her afloat until they were both saved. (Warriors, p. 66) Mireles asks a very important question. He said that Skutnik did so with no obligation to save the woman. Or did he? As a sheepdog, you are under no obligation to protect others. Or are you? As a school sheepdog, you should feel an obligation to help those who are in need in schools. This obligation is internal, and should be for any sheepdog.
The ninth Warrior Virtue is Code. Sheepdogs operate under a Code, a system that helps them define right and wrong, good and evil. Mireles wrote, “A warrior has to know what he believes in before he can define his personal code.” (Warriors, p. 66) Mireles has outlined his ten virtues, the outline of the things he believes in. The Code is how a sheepdog exemplifies their calling. Take some time and identify your Code.
The tenth Warrior Virtue is _____. The tenth virtue has been intentionally left blank. The ancient Greeks had a saying “Know thyself.” This was a directive to introspection, a skill needed by the sheepdog. Mireles describes Taoist and Zen lessons using open parables that forced students to bend their minds to find the meaning. Mireles leaves the tenth Virtue blank for the sheepdogs to fill in for themselves. Perhaps your tenth virtue is love. A sheepdog has to love, and love deeply. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) A sheepdog needs to know in their heart that they would lay down their life for their students and teachers. If love isn’t your tenth virtue what is your tenth virtue?
Do you have what it takes to be a sheepdog? You need to choose action over indecision, and have a strong sense of right and wrong. You have to choose to be persistent, and know how to be a leader. You have to choose to be compassionate about those in your care, and know nothing is more important than their safety. When there is trouble, do you choose to head toward the trouble, or away from it? To be a sheep dog, you need to understand that you are both shield and sword to protect the sheep from the wolf. It’s never easy, but if the mindset is right, the rewards can be very fulfilling.
For the people whose profession is public safety being a sheepdog is a choice. In the field of education it's not something many have even considered. The realities of today’s violence in our communities and schools are forcing educators to the realization they need make a choice. The choice is to either let events overwhelm them or prepare to deal with events when they occur and to consider a wider range of possible dangers. The choice between being a sheepdog or a sheep will affect the safety of their students, and is one that must be made.