David Bruce: Education Anecdotes

Tilly Smith, a 10-year-old English schoolgirl, saved approximately 100 people at a resort on the Thai island of Phuket from a tsunami on 26 December 2004. The tsunami killed at least 178,000 people. Fortunately for the people at the resort, Tilly had studied tsunamis in her geography class in Oxshott, a small town south of London, just two weeks earlier. Tilly said, “I saw this bubbling on the water, right on the edge, and foam sizzling just like in a frying pan. The water was coming in, but it wasn’t going out again. It was coming in, and then in, and then in, towards the hotel.” Tilly told her mother, Penny, “Mum, I know there’s something wrong. I know it’s going to happen—the tsunami.” Her mother did not believe her at first. However, her father, Colin, said, “Tilly went hysterical.” Colin and Tilly’s 8-year-old sister, Holly, went to the hotel and spread news of the approaching tsunami, and Tilly told a Japanese-born hotel chef who recognized the word “tsunami.” The chef and a hotel security agent helped spread the news of the approaching tsunami at the beach, and people left the beach. Minutes later, the tsunami hit the beach. According to media reports, “The beach near the Marriott Hotel was one of the few in Phuket where no one was killed or seriously hurt.” Former United States President Bill Clinton met with Tilly the following year. He said, “Tilly’s story is a simple reminder that education can make a difference between life and death. All children should be taught disaster reduction so they know what to do when natural hazards strike.” Because of Tilly, many people lived through the tsunami who otherwise would have died. Fortunately for them, Tilly likes studying geography. 

In May 2011, when gunfire broke out outside a school in the northern state of Nuevo Leon in Mexico, kindergarten teacher Martha Rivera Alanis remained calm and instructed her class of 5- and 6-year-old children to do a duck-and-cover drill for their protection. In recognition of her outstanding civic courage, Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz gave to her a framed certificate. Ms. Alanis said, “Of course, I was afraid, but I tell you, my kids get me through it.” During the emergency she told a little girl, “No, my love, nothing is going to happen—just put your little face on the floor.” The gunshots were from an attack in which five people were killed at a taxi stand. Monterrey, Mexico, has been the site of much drug-related violence. To keep the children from being frightened, Ms. Alanis had them sing a song from the children’s TV show Barney and Friends. The children sang, “If the rain drops were chocolate, I would love to be there, opening my mouth to taste them.” Ms. Alanis said, “My only thought was to take their minds off that noise [the gunshots]. So I thought of that song.” She said, “I’m going to carry on; of course, it is possible. If my 5- and 6-year-olds can do it, it is up to the rest of us to carry on.” Part of carrying on is being prepared. Ms. Alanis said, “We do [emergency] drills constantly, because the area where we are is a high-risk zone. She adding that the kids “behaved in the way we had practiced.” 

The first-ever class taught by Kari-Lynn Winters consisted of first-graders with behavioral problems; however, after the first day of class Kari-Lynn very seldom had any problem with any child. On the first day of class, Kari-Lynn passed out some candies that were to be used in a math lesson. She gave the children strict orders not to eat the candies yet, but a small girl did eat some candies and started choking. Kari-Lynn was so scared that she uttered some profanity in front of the children and then ran over, grabbed the child, and used the Heimlich maneuver (lifting the child off the ground as she did so) to get the candies out of the child’s throat so the child could sit at her desk and breathe again. Kari-Lynn then telephoned the child’s mother to come and pick up the child. That day she got a reputation as the school’s strictest teacher. Students spread the word that you better not mess with Kari-Lynn because if you did, Kari-Lynn would do these things to you: 1) Cuss you out in front of the other children, 2) Grab you and lift you off the ground, 3) Break all your ribs, 4) Sit you down at a desk and let you suffer from the pain of the broken ribs, and 5) Call your mother and tell on you so your mother would take you home and punish you again. After the first day of class, Kari-Lynn received many compliments on how well her students behaved.

According to a 2011 national survey of 638 public teachers, 61 percent of these teachers buy food—spending on average $25 monthly—so that they can feed hungry children at school. Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization, sponsored the survey. Quite simply, some children are not getting enough food to eat at home. Fortunately, many teachers are doing the good deed of feeding them. Stacey Frakes, who used to teach third, fourth and fifth grades at Madison County Central School in Florida, remembers that students would almost cry in her classes because they had not eaten breakfast and were hungry. She said that the hungry students were hard to teach because they “couldn’t focus at all. All they could think about was wanting food. They would ask, ‘What time is lunch? Is it lunchtime yet?’” She kept peanut-butter crackers handy so that she could feed hungry students, and once she gave a hungry student her own lunch. The United States government does provide breakfast to 11.6 million school children. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 74 percent of these breakfasts are free; in addition, 8.8 percent are reduced price.

“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.’ — Anatole France

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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