Monday, June 21, 2010

Lance Corporal Michael G. Plank

Please allow me to stray a little bit from the usual blog topics to talk about one of my students that I had as a guidance counselor at Elkland high school. Michael plank came into the school his senior year. Think about coming into a new school during your senior year and “starting all over again”. Mike handled the situation very well. He did well in school, worked hard and was always respectful. In other words, he was a “good kid”. He graduated from school in 2004. After graduation he got a job and became a “good man”. He joined the United States Marine Corps in February 2009. He shipped out to Afghanistan in March of 2010. He was killed in action on June 9th, 2010. My wife (who taught him in class) and I went to the funeral yesterday. What a sad event. The funereal was simply heartbreaking for a lot of reasons. I was impressed with the outpouring of support from the community. People lined the streets as the funeral ended and the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery. It is the least we could do to show our appreciation. I often hear the word “hero” bantered around quite a bit. I am particularly upset when I hear the word used to describe athletes. I have never really tried to devise my own definition of “hero”, but I am going to try now in an attempt to describe the late Lance Corporal Michael G. Plank. A hero is someone that is willing to sacrifice their comfort (or their life) for the betterment of others in their society or community. By that definition, Mike is hero. Rest in Peace Mike.

The funeral offered my wife and me a chance to see and talk to some of the students that we taught in Elkland. Many of our ex-students that we saw at the funeral were the students that easily slip through cracks in school. They did not get into too much trouble, but they do not thrive in the school system either. These are good “kids” who just did not see a benefit to schooling the way it was offered to them. I feel sad that our school system in the United States does not meet the needs of a lot of our students. Michael Plank was one of those students that the school system could have done a better job to try to reach. Many of his friends were also in the same category. I think of the book Hallowing Out the Middle where the authors point out that rural school systems in the United States often put a majority of their resources into programs for students who will not end up living in the community. In other words, a school’s resources are spent on students who will go away to college and never come back. The authors argue that a rural school system should spend their resources on the students (like Mike) who will stay in the area and contribute to the local community. It is an interesting concept and one that I think needs to be explored further. If we do not start this conversation then there will continue to be those students who simply do not thrive in our school systems.

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