Don't Know Much About Geography
When Hurricane Katrina was about to hit I admit I was oblivious. Storms come and go all the time. Warnings are given frequently, often seen scrolling across the bottom of my favorite tv show. Since I'm being honest I'll go one more-I also probably didn't give a second thought to it because all I needed to know was that it wasn't happening here.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit and while I knew there was damage, I still didn't know quite how severe it all had been. Again I attribute this to my desire to avoid straight news programs at all costs. This isn't because I'm ignorant, it's because watching the news for long intervals makes me too damn depressed.
So imagine my surprise when in passing a few days later I overheard that New Orleans was all but gone, at least for the time being. I, like many of you, was in shock, albeit a little delayed. I felt sad for those people. I felt scared for the world. But most immediately, I felt embarrassed that I hadn't been paying attention sooner.
Suddenly an event that seemed miles away hit close to home. Just like the water rushing in from the collapsed levees, the repercussions of such devastation began to permeate other areas of life.
As silly as it might seem after I realized I didn't know of anyone that I know of being personally effected, I thought about my blogroll. I tried to do a quick scan in my mind of any of my fellow bloggers who might have been directly effected by this. As some of you may have seen, Bed of Thistles is one such blogger who commented on this blog about his safety and the welfare of others. I didn't even begin to think about those indirectly effected by it. It was all too much to digest.
Then I stated thinking about it from a teaching perspective. It occurred to me that it was just around this time last year that I was teaching a different batch of students all about the tsunami. If I had been teaching four years ago around this time I would have September 11th on my plate. The students, while engaged, are a bit distant from the whole thing and I wondered why. Then I realized that within their eight-year-old lives there have already been at least three major tragedies. So while in some ways this is very sad, what is even sadder is that this must seem like second nature to them since it's all they've ever known.
The next thing I realized is that I had to teach these children about what happened to the best of my knowledge. Remember I had just admitted to you to not knowing much about the events myself a few days earlier. So I read up. I gathered pictures together. I cried a bit, partly for my ignorance and feeling helpless, partly because I was scared for those people and feeling guilty that I was warm, safe and dry.
In my travels, I instantly realized something else- how little I knew about New Orleans. For example, I didn't know most of New Orleans was below sea level. I mean I knew it was surrounded by water, but I didn't realize much of the land actually existed below the water. Obviously, I have never been to New Orleans and in addition, don't get out much. Once I knew that to me it seemed like Russian Roulette to have been living there as long as some of those people did, especially since warning of bad hurricanes and levees in need of repair had been circling for some time. But then I thought about all the families with beautiful homes on the Jersey shore that love their piece of real estate and wouldn't trade it for the world. Some people would just rather take that chance than in their eyes, take the worse alternative- not have a chance at the life they want at all.
Once I did some research I found that teaching my students about the hurricane was much easier than I had initially anticipated. Much of the lesson was guided by their questions and concerns. There was also the added "bonus" of our school being on the water so that put things into perspective for them.
As the water continues to fill the town of New Orleans, the problem continues to overflow, causing a different kind of ripple effect. Last week the town where I work announced they would be taking 100 families from New Orleans. Due to overcrowding at the high school level, most of these familes are slated to be screened for elementary or middle school students. Rough estimates are all we were given at this point considering the familes haven't arrived yet. What we do know, however, is that all of the students will be split up amongst the elementary schools accordingly. As of next week nothing could change, or I could have 1, 2 or more students in my room from that area. Students that are coming to a town that has very little with even less, if you can imagine that.
Within a few short weeks a problem that didn't exist in anyone's mind, went from a problem that didn't exist in my mind to a "problem" that could be mine as early as the end of this week. In addition to help possibly educate these students I also plan to give something to someone, I just haven't decided where or when yet.
In short, the lesson is simple- don't ever not pay attention just because you think something doesn't concern you. Don't turn away. Because this time it's them. But it could just as easily be any one of us tomorrow.
For a lighter look on all water related weather woes, read this reheated post.