19 April 2013

How a traumatic week for the nation affects education.

I'm supposed to be leading a review session this morning for a class of ~400 students. Sure, I would expect only a small fraction of those enrolled to show up, but their final exam is next week and I imagine there will be at least a few questions about the material on macroevolution I assigned from Monday.

The problem right now is that, for the second time this week, a bomb threat has been called into the building where I teach. This morning's emergency text comes with speculation that this one isn't serious, but that the building is still being searched. Earlier this week, the fire alarm also went off twice right before class started. There's lots of construction in the building right now (not unusual for a college campus these days), so it's difficult to determine whether alarms and sounds are actually significant, or just a disruption.

I've spent almost all of my life either taking classes or working on college campuses. Disruptions from possible or imminent disaster occur periodically, especially in science buildings. Sometimes it's a careless student leaving "suspicious white powder" out on a lab bench rather than cleaning up. Sometimes it's a bunsen burner that sets off a fire alarm. Once it was a tank of flammable gas in a research lab that exploded.

This week, I've been reminded several times over that danger exists, either from malicious people or even just accidents. As I write, normal activity in Boston has slowed to a crawl as police seek out suspected perpetrators of violence. These types of things happen all over the world everyday, but we, as Americans, largely allow it to pass by without notice. This week, though, I can't ignore a twitter newsfeed full of minute-by-minute updates of casualties and announcements of the next catastrophic event. I'm on edge, and I'm vigilant. If something happens, I'm wondering how I'll react when a classroom full of students looks to me for guidance.

The last time there was a bomb threat it took a little over an hour to clear. I just received the text that the building is clear, and it took less than half hour. Looks like class can start in half an hour as planned. Frankly, though, if I were a student and received a text when I awoke that a bomb threat had been called into the building for one of my classes, I would probably go back to sleep. This pattern doesn't bode well for a campus heading into finals next week. I can post a video online detailing the questions I planned to cover in the review session, but that doesn't work so well for exams.

I was happy to hear a cricket chirping in the bathroom earlier, as it reminded me that, despite the chaos in various parts of life, the world still keeps doing its thing.

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