Mamacita says: I’m guessing that many most bloggers will be posting tributes today, and telling the blogosphere ‘where we were’ when the planes hit the World Trade Center. Here is mine. This is actually the nineteenth time I’ve posted this on 9/11, so if it seems familiar, you’re not crazy. Well, not on this issue, anyway.
The morning began like any other; we stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, and sat back down to watch Channel One News, which had been taped at 3:00 that morning in the school library, thanks to the timer. But Channel One News didn’t come on.
Instead, the secretary’s voice, over the intercom, told the teachers to “please check your email immediately.” We did. And we found out what had happened.
I scrolled down the monitor and read the end of the message. The superintendent had ordered all teachers to be absolutely mum all day about the tragedy. We were not to answer any questions from students, and we were especially not to offer any information to them.
The day went by in a blur. Many parents drove to the school, took their kids out, and brought them home. Between classes, frightened groups of students gathered in front of their lockers and whispered, gossiped, and cried, and begged us for information. By that time, the superintendent’s order had been seconded by the principals, and we were unable to give these terrified kids any information. In the computer labs, the MSN screens told the 8th graders the truth, but they, too, were instructed NOT to talk about it to the other students. Right, like THAT happened. The story was being repeated by 8th graders, and it was being told we’re-all-going-to-die style.
At noon, many of the students were picked up by parents and taken home or out for lunch. Those few who returned had a big tale to tell. The problem was, the tale was being told by children, and few if any of the facts were straight. The atmosphere in the building got more and more strained. We are only a few miles away from an immensely large Navy base, where ammunition and bombs are made, and we’ve always known it was a prime target, which means, of course, that we are, too. Many of my children’s parents worked there. The base was locked down and those parents did not come home that night. Buses dropped children off at the empty, locked homes anyway.
Reasonable questions were answered with silence, or the statement: “You’ll find out when you get home.” This, to children who weren’t even sure they still had a home to get to. A rumor mill can be a horrible thing.
This, added to all the rumors and gossip spread by children, turned my little sixth graders into terrified toddlers.
As teachers, we were furious and disgusted with the superintendent’s edict. We wanted to call all the students into the gym and calmly tell them the truth in words and ways that would be age-appropriate. We wanted to hug them and assure them that it was far away and they were safe. We asked for permission to do this, and it was denied. Our orders were ‘silence.’ We hadn’t been allowed to hug them for years, of course, but there are times and places when hugs ARE appropriate. No matter, the superintendent stood firm: no information whatsoever. Other administrators in other school systems were doing it right – calling assemblies and explaining calmly to their terrified children exactly what had happened, and assuring the children that they were safe
Not our administrators. “Tell them NOTHING” was their edict, and we had to follow it or face the consequences, and the consequences for insubordination in this school system are devastating.
The day went by, more slowly than ever a day before. The students grew more and more pale and frightened. We asked again, and again he stood firm that no information whatsoever was to be given out.
By the end of the day, the children were as brittle as Jolly Rancher Watermelon Stix.
A few minutes before the bell rang to send them home, a little girl raised her hand and in a trembling voice that I will never forget, asked me a question. “Please, is it true that our parents are dead and our houses are burned down?”
That was it. I gathered my students close and in a calm voice explained to them exactly what had happened. I told them their parents were alive and safe, and that they all still had homes to go to.
The relief was incredible. I could feel it cascading all through the room.
However. Some of my children’s parents worked at the Navy Base. Those parents were, of course, held at the base and not allowed to leave. School buses delivered their children to locked, empty houses.
I was, naturally, written up for insubordination the next day, but I didn’t care. My phone had rung off the hook that night with parents thanking me for being honest with their children. That was far more important than a piece of paper that said I’d defied a stupid inappropriate order meted out by a man who belonged in the office of a used car lot, not in a position of power over children’s lives.
The next day at school, in my room, we listened to some of the music that had been ‘specially made about the tragedy. I still have those cd’s and I’ve shared them with many people over the past few years. It is true that kids cried again, but it was good to cry. It was an appropriate time to cry. We didn’t do spelling or grammar that day. There are times when the “business as usual” mindset simply is not appropriate.
I wish administrators would realize that kids are a lot tougher than we might think. Kids are also a lot more sensitive that we might realize. It’s an odd combination, and we as educators must try our best to bring the two ends of the emotional spectrum together and help these kids learn to deal with horrible happenings and still manage to get through the day as well as possible.
Ignoring an issue will not help. Morbidly focusing on an issue will not help. Our children are not stupid, and to treat them as such is not something that builds trust. Our children deserve answers to their questions.
How can we expect our children to learn to find a happy medium if we don’t show them, ourselves, when opportunities arise?
I’m still so very sorry, children, that I was forced to participate in that dreadful conspiracy of silence when just a few spoken words might have eased your minds.
September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2020. God bless us, every one.