Friday, May 16, 2008

Bake Sales Won't Do It

I've been looking at horrific pictures of pancaked school buildings in Sichuan Province and small corpses. The magnitude of the death toll in Sichuan and Burma is hard to fathom. James Fallows does an excellent job, putting people and faces to the numbers. Read Masses, and individuals, in China. The pictures of the kids in their classrooms and dormitories, before the quake, are heartbreaking.

First I felt sad, now I am MAD. Why do schools so often collapse in earthquakes? Why are schools and hospitals deathtraps instead of havens in disasters? Andrew Revkin has been following the story. Read In Smart, Wealthy World, Schools Still Fall. Why?, Citizens Challenge China on Fallen Schools and Earthquake in China Highlights the Vulnerability of Schools in Many Countries. Follow the many fine links.

The middle school where the largest group of kids was killed was a selective academy. Chengdu and the surrounding area had hung their hat on IT (information technology) as a way to pull themselves out of poverty. Computer world estimates that Chengdu is the 10th largest IT center globally. Many schools were built to train the next generation to move up the IT food chain.

Kids competed for the right to leave their families and villages behind to live in crammed dormitories and attend huge classes in order to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Look at the picture of a typical dormitory room on Fallows' blog. The 18 girls that shared that room had fewer possessions between them than what my daughter has in one corner of her room. Those girls had nothing but pluck, brains and willingness to work hard.

What did the officials give them? Death traps. It's not just China according to Andrew Revkin.
Experts on earthquake dangers have warned for years that tens of millions of students in thousands of schools, from Asia to the Americas, face similar risks, yet programs to reinforce existing schools or require that new ones be built to extra-sturdy standards are inconsistent, slow and inadequately financed.
This is even true in western Canada and the United States.

Why do we take care of kids and schools last (after prisons and pensions and medical services for the elderly)? Why is there money to fund shiny computer labs, but not basic safety?

Andrew Revkin points to military spending as a place with plenty of money. Remember the bumper sticker, "Imagine a world where the schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold bake sales"?

I once attended a meeting at an Air Force Base which was interrupted at noon by the public address system. The announcements of bake sales benefiting this and that military (social and medical) need droned on for what seemed like 5 minutes. When it was over, I looked over at the colonel running the meeting and asked, "What was that about?" He said it was a daily occurrence.

Great, now we are running bake sales to fund both our schools and our Air Force. There is no way we can ever bake enough.

1 comment:

  1. I've been following all the articles and it is just heartbreaking and it makes me very very angry.

    Why don't governments realize that children are our greatest natural resource?

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