Put a Ding in the Universe!

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 21 2013

Moore, Oklahoma Tornado

Tomorrow morning, the headlines will be dominated by a huge tornado that destroyed 30 square miles of Moore, Oklahoma today.  Moore is a community that is just south of Oklahoma City.  The OKC metro area is huge.  It extends from Edmond and Yukon in the north (possibly even Guthrie, to be honest) and goes all the way down to Norman.  Moore is a densely populated area with many new homes and nice, upscale businesses.  This is what was left in the trail of the tornado’s 2 1/4 mile base:

The twister destroyed an estimated 500 homes, a movie theater, several businesses, and most horribly, two elementary schools.  So far several elementary school children were found drowned inside their school.  There were several stories of devoted teachers who covered their cowering students with their own bodies to protect them from flying debris and saved their lives.  One man recounted his team having to pull a car that was thrown through the wall of a school off a teacher who had three children underneath her.  None of them survived.

The devastation is unimaginable.  It looks like a tsunami wiped the landscape clean.  Blocks after block, nothing was left standing.  Some of the meteorologists say this was the worst tornado ever witnessed.  Debris from Moore is still falling in Branson, Missouri some 250 miles away.

At our school, we received the notification to head to the designated shelters shortly before the storm came through.  We were about 5 or 6 miles north of the area.  Our school has lots of discipline problems and very few of the kids ever want to comply with the instructions during tornado or fire drills.  They wanted to argue with us as we insisted they get into position.  It was incredibly frustrating.  Here we had school children dying just a few miles away and our kids only wanted to give us pushback and backtalk.

I find this incredibly frustrating.  My military experience taught me the need to be obedient to regulations.  Sometimes you don’t always know why you need to obey.  There’s not always time to ask questions and get answers before we comply.  Immediate compliance could mean the difference between life and death.  It frustrates me that, even in a real, life-threatening emergency, our students don’t take anything seriously.

I approached one girl who refused to get into the safety position next to the wall and I told her emphatically, “Look, this storm has just destroyed two elementary schools a few miles away!  Get down on your knees!”  Her answer was, “F**k them!  I don’t care!”

That’s so disturbing!  It’s one thing to struggle to deal with the achievement gap and problems like investment.  We’re so far away from that at my school, it’s unreal.  Our kids need to have lessons in human empathy first, not reading or math! Their lives are so messed up that we have to teach them how to be human first.  How do you invest them in learning when they’re really not even invested in life?

I don’t mean to sound cynical, but it’s more important to teach them to care about other people.  They laugh when someone hurts himself or herself. They rejoice in the misfortune of others.  It’s no wonder that many of them don’t care about reading better or improving their future chances in life.  Seeing this callousness and lack of empathy is troubling.

The death toll is far from final at this point.  I don’t know if I’ll be at school tomorrow.  OKC wasn’t hit by the storm, but it took me five hours to get home because of the roads that were closed.  If it takes that long to get back, I would have to leave in  about 15 minutes (it’s almost midnight now) to arrive in time.

I’m grateful that the storm didn’t hit my home or neighborhood and I’m thankful that it didn’t hit our school, also.  I mourn for the loss of the children at the two elementary schools and the inevitable grief to be experienced by the parents.  I don’t worry that the kids I teach will be too traumatized by the incident.  I worry that they’ll be nonplussed by it.

If you’re a praying person, I invite the reader to invoke whatever deity you worship and ask for blessings for our neighbors in Moore, OK.  While you’re at it, send a few bucks to the Red Cross or other local charities.  They’ll need all the help they can get.



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YOTFAO BACTAG = You only teach for America once, but always challenge the achievement gap.

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