Mrs TWC wrote this in response to the way in which public education reacted to the criminal terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The essay appeared September 15, 2001 on Mrs TWC's blog and was reprinted elsewhere a number of times. I've quoted from it several times, but never posted it. In re-reading it yesterday I realized that it is as salient as the day it was written......
I have a three year old and a five year old and I want them to feel safe. Having said that, the media coverage of the impact of the terrorist attacks on America's children is sickeningly trite and leaves one with the impression that our school children are extremely coddled. I have been following Education Week's coverage of the terrorist attack "Terror Touches Schools," which has collected newspaper stories about terrorism and children from around the nation.
Every major newspaper in the country has run a story on how
teachers should respond to children. From the NEA's "Crisis
Communication Guide and Toolkit" to the cadre of child-development
specialist and grief counselors being called to service at elementary
and high schools-the consensus seems to be that "eggshell stepping is
best." School children should be protected and reassured that they are
safe. The best advice is to turn the television off and try to return to
a sense of normalcy. However, the realities of early dismissals,
television bans, and the strange behavior of their parents and teachers
make it perfectly clear to children that the adults do not feel safe.
Security above all else is the most important theme perpetuated in our
My mother-in-law called from Baltimore before 7:00 AM [Pacific] to tell us to turn on our television. My five year old saw the live coverage of the second plane crashing into the WTC. He immediately went and found his Spiderman t-shirt and told me that he and Gavin would not be at school when I picked them up because they were going with the Power Rangers to save the world. He urgently wanted to get to school to call a meeting with Gavin and Tanner, his five-year-old compadres, to decide what to do-a typical reaction from a boy who lives and breathes bad guys versus good guys. People are always talking about how bad television is for children and they seldom talk about how bad their schools are for children. Yet, I would rather be on a highjacked airplane with someone inoculated by Power Rangers than someone who believes the message of every school institution: that weapons are bad and that the authorities and the government will solve all problems and protect you.
Public institutions want children to believe that good guys never use weapons to defend themselves. At my son's "private" school five-year old boys are not allowed to play Power Rangers or Spiderman. Even talking about superheroes is grounds for a "Time Out." In other respects, the private school is a good one--but I have yet to find any other public or private school that is nuanced in any way about guns and violence. The message to children is that all weapons are always bad and that public institutions (like schools) have to protect ordinary citizens from violence. The message is that if people are nicer and more tolerant-if kids learn to respect all cultures, then these bad violent things will not happen.
There were also stories in Education Week's coverage about "lessons" schoolchildren could learn from the tragedy. Reported lessons include geography, lessons about letter writing, and lessons about making civic contributions to our nation.
Sadly, I have yet to see any newspaper or school specialist call for lessons about liberty, about constitutional guarantees, about how these terrorist acts will test fundamental values of freedom versus safety. Schools will not ask schoolchildren to think about how it came to be that only the terrorists had weapons while flight crews, pilots, and ordinary citizens did not.
In fact, schools rarely engage students to think about issues of liberty-it is never part of the curriculum. Perhaps that is why so many national leaders and ordinary citizens (with many exceptions) are so quick to concede that we have to give up many of our prior conveniences, in the name of security. That message is really no different than the standard message we have been taught in school.
The fact that public and private schools have no appreciation for liberty and freedom and that these themes never are discussed in the classroom is one of the most important arguments for parental choice and control of a child's education.
Lisa Snell is Director of Education at Reason Foundation in Los Angeles