Introduction 1.2—Where It All Began
From 1996 to 2003 I taught high school English at a marvelous little school in lower Manhattan. The staff was extraordinary. The students were (mostly) motivated, interested, and—best of all—interesting.
It was the perfect place to work and teach and marvel at how wonderful kids are.
Until a few guys tried to drop a building on us.
It wasn’t the day that was so bad for most of us*. Most of us didn’t lose anyone. Most of us just had to get ourselves and our kids safely out of our building. Most of us, in fact, got out of there without a scratch—if you don’t count 9/11-releated asthma.
What was bad for us was the aftermath.
If you’ve never been in a terrorist attack—and I sincerely hope you haven’t—or in war (which I understand is similar, but more horrifyingly constant), you might not comprehend the many things that happen to your body and brain afterwards. We sure didn’t know what we needed and neither did the NYC Board of Education. No fault on anyone’s part—this was a rather *ahem* unique situation.
While our school was structurally sound, it wasn’t safe to be in the general area due to air quality issues. And the school was (inside and out) completely besieged by ash from the building collapses. So. We had to have a school, right? As a consequence we were warehoused (exiled is what it felt like) in a large but student-empty-in-proportion-to-buiding-size school uptown a bit.
It should have worked.
It should have been perfect.
It didn’t. It wasn’t.
It was appalling—for both sides, I believe. The school that was already there was small and self-contained and unique (as was ours).
- They were inundated and overwhelmed by us in their halls, in their classrooms, in their way.
- We were traumatized, zombie-fied refugees who couldn’t see or think much past our immediate needs.
And there was little external guidance for how to merge two schools in an emergency situation like this.
So the short version: what happened next?
Three girls asked me to teach them to knit.
These girls started it all.
What I learned from them and the 45 other kids who showed up to learn to knit and crochet is why I’m blogging this book and why I felt it was necessary to try to find research to support what I and other teachers saw happen when the kids started knitting.
*The actual attack from my own perspective is fictionalized in my novel Grounded, or you can read my memories of the day—and my students’ writing from that morning—on my 9/11 page and my 9/11 student page.