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Crisis? Teach the Kids.
Alex Steffen, 6 Oct 04

There's been a humanitarian crisis. People are miserable, hungry, sick, perhaps wounded, certainly traumatized. What are the first priorities?

Would you believe education? Well, it turns out that not only kids, but communities, need schools to deal with crises.

Growing evidence suggests that resuming the teaching of kids as soon as possible after a disaster or human rights crisis saves lives and rehabilitates communities.

There are, of course, the direct positive effects on children, admirably summed up in this editorial by Graham Wood

"It seems inappropriate to argue, as some still do, that responses involving education are not necessary until a return to “normality” is achieved. We have only one childhood, one adolescence. The skills and attitudes that we learn while young shape our future lives.

"A number of clear benefits are evident from introducing education in the early stages of an emergency:
*It gives young people a focus.
*It provides a sense of normality.
*It may prevent or ease conflict.
*It provides a forum for information exchange.
*Through parent-teacher associations it gives parents a sense of control over their own lives.
*And, of course, young people continue the learning process."

As Forced Migration Review (perhaps the most disturbingly-titled social studies publication in the world, if ya' really think about it) says [big, slow, clunky PDFs, but interesting], by creating "safe zones" for kids, and providing access to essential knowledge, educators not only help the whole community return to a sense of psychological stability, but can save a generation which might otherwise be lost. Indeed, by involving elders and parents in the process, a whole community can be moved out of traumatic shock into action.

But the kicker here, for me, was the body of research that shows that education in times of crisis is transformative. Imagine being the person who compiled the raw data for "Implementing the right to education in areas of armed conflict," or Education in Emergencies: A tool kit for starting and managing education in emergencies. Imagine not only being a teacher, but being a teacher in a place where kids are being driven away, starved, shot at, raped, and murdered. Now imagine doing your job well. Imagine giving those kids a sense of inquiry, of hope, of wonder.

I've long thought teaching the noblest profession on Earth. Now I know that it's one of the most vital as well.

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The noblest profession on Earth? I am having trouble squaring that with the coercive, regimented, involuntary, racist, authoritarian and often violent institutions I had my schooling -- and teaching -- experience with (in the US). As one of those very articles you linked to relates, schooling can just as easily be a tool of the worst sort of oppression, inculcating prejudice and docility in the face of tyrany (something I would argue they have excelled at in the US). Your rosy view of the profession of teaching is not only unwarranted, it is a dangerous fantasy.

Posted by: anon on 7 Oct 04

Education is also desperately needed in many areas with poverty in otherwise affluent nations, which makes it easier for them to slip through the cracks. I'm particularly thinking of places like Los Angeles and New York City. It seems like this research has broader application than just refugees and war-torn countries.

To respond to 'anon' about oppressive education... Yes, educational institutions can be a horrible force when they go wrong. The US in particular used forced boarding schools as part of its genocide of the Native American people. However, any institution that is critically necessary can be abused. Education is powerful, an can be used for good or bad. Like many other things, it is harder to use it for good.

Posted by: Dave on 7 Oct 04

I have written for Wired and The Atlantic about world population trends. It seems that in the developing world, there is only one thing you have to do to bring the population down: educate the little girls.

If the little girls are educated, they come to realize that they have more options than just being a mother. When they become women, they do not need special programs to convince them to use contraception: they're motivated and able to find the information on their own.

Of course in most cultures, it's the boys who get educated.

Posted by: Patrick Di Justo on 7 Oct 04

Is this post an attempt at humor? I am sorry for those who's education was, in their opinion, a racist and autoritarian experience. What was the alternative? I have taught in many situations and the teachers that I know have tried to provide children with a chance at bettering their life. Some may be misguided in their understanding of what that means.

Posted by: Chris on 22 Oct 04



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