School started this week in Anchorage. The yellow buses are back. The blinking yellow lights are back. Parents all over town are congratulating themselves on having survived another summer vacation. Meanwhile, parents in Beslan bury their children and try to get on with their lives in a town where the first day of school went horribly awry.
You shouldn’t have to worry about dying from the simple act of going to school. You shouldn’t have to worry about terrorists taking over your school and holding you for two days in torturous heat with no food or water. The only thing you should worry about is whether you’ll find someone you like to sit with at lunch or whether you’ll get the math teacher from hell.
School should be a place your parents can send you with some modicum of peace of mind that you will be returned to them six to eight hours later in one piece.
Apparently, the first day of school in Russia is a day where parents accompany students to greet their teachers with flowers and a celebratory attitude is maintained to highlight the happiness of knowing that your child lives in a world where he or she has a right to an education no matter what social class their family belongs to.
Now I realize that for some people in many places of Russia that’s not entirely true. There are minorities in Russia who don’t enjoy the same privileges as other Russian citizens. And there are minorities here in America who can make that same claim. But the important thing is that despite the disparities, the goal is for equal education and just having that goal is a step further in civilization than we, as humans, have ever gone before.
Why did the militants seize the school? Well, that’s easy. Helpless victims. That most horrifying of scenarios for any nation – children held captive, their lives threatened. Blow up a plane and it’s over in an instant. Kidnap a school full of children and you get 24 hour coverage for days.
Here’s what amazes me. Did these terrorists really think that the Russian government was going to give Chechenya its freedom in return for the freedom of the hostages? Has this ever really worked anywhere? And how can people who call themselves human sit for two days in a sweltering school watching little children suffer and think this will in any way help further their goal? As far as I can tell, it has only caused the world to shudder with revulsion at them and, by association, their cause.
When I was going to school, back in what now seems like some prehistorically quaint time, school was where your parents sent you to be educated and where they knew you’d be safe. In my case in particular, the only thing we usually had to fear was Sr. Josephine catching us making a crooked line into church.
I lived next to the school and so hung there through all four seasons. The halls were safe whether filled with kids or just filled with nuns trying to get things cleaned up from the last school year or ready for the next. Either way, a kid caught in the hall was considered fair game for helping haul desks and books and generally making themselves useful.
The terrorists who created the tragedy in Beslan took away more than just the lives of their victims. They took away the security of the surviving parents and children that there was anywhere truly safe in their world. And for parents all over the globe, they made that first day of school a little harder. A little harder to let their child go into the building without them, a little harder to drive away trusting all would be well. Beslan has reinforced the frightening lesson of Columbine in our national psyche.
It’s hard to have sympathy for causes that use children as human shields and human bombs. Even if they had a point to begin with, even if I initially wanted to try to understand their complaints, it’s hard to divorce their cause from the pictures of little children leaving their first day of school dead.
Call me crazy, but to my mind, that’s not the way to get the world’s sympathy to your cause. It will get the world’s attention, but with it will come the world’s revulsion. And then you just have to wonder, what did they really think they were achieving?