31 01 2012

Although he made good grades in elementary school, he did so poorly in high school that he never graduated.  He remembered his teachers as tyrants, saying, “It’s tragic to think that such people have the power to bar a young man’s way.”  His science teacher remembered him as just another student, leaving “neither a favorable nor an unfavorable impression.”  Another teacher said that although he was gifted, he lacked self-control and was argumentative and self-opinionated.  Only one teacher was able to motivate him, a high school history professor named Dr. Poetsch.

“Even today I think back with genuine emotion on this gray-haired man who, by the fire of his words, sometimes made us forget the present; who, as if by magic, transported us into times past and, out of the millennium mists of time, transformed dry historical facts into vivid reality.  There we sat, often aflame with enthusiasm, sometimes even moved to tears…”

He wanted to be an artist, but failing to meet the entrance requirements to art school, decided that architecture was more to his liking.  When his beloved mother died of breast cancer when he was just 19, he moved to the city, living the life of a destitute vagabond for four years, taking odd jobs as he could, hunger his constant companion.  Five years later he decided to go into politics.

He was, of course, Adolf Hitler.

Which brings me to my question: What happens to these kids, these gap-toothed, smiley first graders who grow into lanky, awkward adolescents and then become the confident, ready-to-change-the-world teenagers?  Why do some head for relative obscurity while others dive into mission work or medical research or theological studies, and still others, thankfully not many, leave footprints of evil and hatred wherever they go?

Our city is in shock. We are reeling in disbelief.  In the space of less than six weeks, two police officers have been murdered.  This is Aiken, S.C., not New York City, L.A., or Atlanta!  Aiken, home of the Aiken’s Makin craft fair, horse races, and a brand new Cracker Barrel restaurant.  Surely this isn’t happening.

But it has.  On December 19, Master Officer Scotty Richardson was shot and killed by Stephon Carter, age 19, during a traffic stop, leaving behind his beloved wife and three young sons.  Then on January 28, Joshua Tremaine Jones, age 26, killed Master Corporal Sandra Rogers as she responded to a report of suspicious activity, leaving a sister and father wracked with grief and an entire police force and community stunned and shaken.  Guess I should insert the word “allegedly” somewhere in there.  This is still America, after all.

What happens to our kids?  Did Hitler’s mother look down upon her baby’s face and ever imagine him being the force behind the systematic murder of eleven million people?  Did Stephon Carter’s teachers even have an inkling of the violence he was capable of? Were there signs?  Joshua Jones’ father knew something was wrong with his son when at age 16 he stabbed his father twice.  Jones’ father spoke to the media recently, saying that his son’s behavior was “purely the work of the devil.”  Can we, should we, blame it on the devil?

Hitler had a mother who loved him.  He had a teacher who inspired him.  He had the intellect.  Many others with a lot less have gone on to give back to society in positive ways.  What happened?

It’s scary, really.  As a teacher, I touch lives on a daily basis.  I’d like to think that my influence is always a good one, but I have bad days when I lose my patience with the misbehavior, when I don’t always exhibit those behaviors that I want my students to model.  It happens.  I’m human.  But the next day I scrabble my way back, trying to be the positive model that they need and deserve.

We will probably never know where Hitler’s hatred came from or what tipped the balance for Carter and Jones toward lives of violence.  But my students, my kids?  They are the good ones, the ones that will go on to impact the world in positive ways.  I believe that.  I have to.