I have been following news about the earthquake and after shocks in Chile and the tsunami warnings in place in more than a dozen countries on at least three continents. I haven’t turned on my tv, though, I have been on Twitter and ustream. The fact that I now have almost total control over when I get the news, how I get the news, and what news I get is liberating. When I was in high school (I graduated in 1983), this wasn’t the case at all. I would have been limited to what NBC, CBS, and ABC wanted me to know about this news and I would have been on their time schedule to learn it. Right now, I am watching live news from an Oahu TV station with 7,405 other Internet viewers from who knows where. This is cool. Don’t think I have grown cold to the impending loss of life as I am in awe of the power of the Internet. Hardly. I am reading tweets from people I know who are concerned for family members who are in danger. This is not just scary video on the 6 o’clock news. This is real.
I remember just once in school when school was interupted for “real life.” I was in high school in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was shot. I remember an announcement coming over the PA system that the president had been shot but he was expected to live. I was in college in 1986 when the Challenger disaster happened. I was between a physics and a math class when it occured and I learned about from a fellow student who was in his apartment before class. He told me what happened and I walked in to class without a connection to the outside world.
In 2001, I was at a principals’ meeting when a teacher stepped into the room and alerted us about the activities on September 11. The superintendent and division administration along with the principals began making decisions and calling their schools with the plan of action, part of which included keeping all kids off of the Internet and turning off all TVs. Several principals had family at one or more of the locations involved and central office people were quickly designated to take care of those schools so the affected principals could begin to deal with family.
In 2007, I was conducting a workshop when a teacher received a text message from her son at Virginia Tech. “Mom, there’s been a shooting here. Look at your computer.” An, “Oh my God” from the workshop attendee shifted the attention of the room immediately. The mother started looking on the web immediately to find news. Then, she got another text. “Andrew hasn’t answered yet. Go find him or wait?” The mother had two sons at Virginia Tech, where 32 students were killed and many other shot by a gunman who then took his own life. Another mother in the room had a child there as well and began trying to contact her. We were all looking for news. We did not turn on the TV. We relied on the Internet and text message updates from the kids. Thankfully, all of the children of the parents in the room that day were safe. One of the children did know the shooter, and another did know a student who was shot but not killed, and all of them were impacted greatly by the massacre.
The purpose of this blog is not to relive disasters but to analyze access to information over time. What events merit dropping everything and following? Should this decision be made by the superintendent, the principal, the teacher, or the parents? What are the dangers of exposing young children to the horrors of life? Should we only bring the world in to our classroom if it directly connects to the curriculum we are charged with teaching? How can we leverage the flattening effect of the Internet to unbox our classrooms and when should we? Does your school or your district have a policy or a procedure in place to answer these questions?