School or Family?

From the earliest days of catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, well-meaning proclamations were issued from governors and other politicians or civil servants from affected states that schools would accept children from displaced families. Reporters talking to families or relaying the seriousness of the situation repeatedly emphasized the need to get children into school .
This seems so bizarre to me. The whole mind frame that says “school = normal for children” also says, by implication, “school is where children learn about life.” Instead of an emphasis on keeping families together and helping them cope – find new homes, clothes, jobs, support – and school at some point! – the children are issued through one door and the parents another.
How are children meant to learn about real life, its problems, hardships and challenges and, most importantly, how real adults cope in such situations (or, of course, don’t cope)? I suppose they will learn from the myriad of books on the subject, brought out by caring teachers during a civics class.
And what about the emotional toll on these children? They’ve just lost everything, probably seen dead bodies and a catalog of other horrors, have been surrounded by angry, frustrated, desperate people, shipped off to God knows where in some strange town – and then they’re supposed to go to school?! More strangers, more new situations, more adjustments to make! C’mon – would you do that to your child? I wouldn’t.
People point to the Tsunami relief efforts in the Indian Ocean, to the importance of the efforts to rebuild schools and bus in teachers to help the children gain a sense of normalcy and to cope. In those examples, I would say yes, that was a great thing. School, in those cases, was brought to the children and an effort was made to recreate what had been before. But in the Gulf States at present, this is not the case. Children, adults, families, neighborhoods, friends are scattered in a dozen directions, away from their homes, their land, their cities and towns.
My fear is that the alienation that so many of these people live with anyway will just continue to be fed and deepened. Instead of building on a unique opportunity to strengthen families and individuals in the aftermath of disaster, I fear that a continued state of disconnectedness and vulnerability – of adults and children – will go unchallenged!

Posted on September 14, 2005 in Children and Society

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