I write this in my laptop with the very little battery it has left since the last time I was able to charge it about a month ago. I sit with my students in a dark classroom, it is raining outside (a tropical depression that is causing floods in the island, again).
Let me begin by telling you how my classroom used to be:
Three years ago, my school transitioned into a non-traditional methodology called “Blended Learning.” We use station rotations where students have different stages of work: collaborative, technology, face to face (with me), and individual work. My classroom was divided into four areas where these stations are carried out in a rotation that may last more than one day. They used technology every day, assessments, research, writing, even for discussion forums I would set up.
I work in a private school that tends to students with different socio-economic backgrounds, but most of them are upper middle class. At least they were.
I am not going to lie by saying Puerto Rico was a paradise before Hurricane Maria, it was not. The upper middle class could pretend it was by living in an isolated bubble and raising their children under the notion that hunger and poverty did not exist. Particularly in the metropolitan area, a lot of people had more than enough resources to spend on luxuries. Many of my students have been raised with numerous privileges and an overwhelming contact with American culture, to the point that many speak primarily English.
As their teacher, I love them. As their teacher, I have always been worried about how isolated they were from the realities of Puerto Rico. As their teacher, I have tried to the best of my ability to make them aware of how lucky some of them were until a month ago. As their teacher, I have tried to hinder and heal the socio-economic gap between them; not all my students are privileged.
I think now they know.
As we TRY to go about the class as usual, many things have changed. There is no electricity, therefore, no technology, no e-mails, no search engines, no learning platforms, or websites to use. There is no photocopying machine, therefore, no worksheets. Right now, we don’t even have sunlight (because of the clouds): they cannot see what I have copied on the board. There’s the noise of the rain, the noise of the cars, but also the noise of the chaos that we are living in.
Even if our school was functioning normally, how could I expect them to concentrate on grammar exercises if some of them are sleeping in a car with their families because they lost the roof of the house? How can I expect them to complete homework or read at home, when sunlight fades by 6 p.m. and they most likely spent the afternoon with their parents looking for drinkable water in stores, or washing clothes by hand, or in apocalyptic traffic jams that have become normal these days.
When I look at them, I can help but feel angst for all the children of the island who are under worst conditions: still living in a shelter, exposed to illnesses that are common under these circumstances, children who may get sick drinking water that is not clean, children that have seen their elderly family members die, children… who may not have food to eat.
In the darkness of my classroom, where we all attempt to move on and start up the country again, I cannot help to wonder who is at fault here.
I will not pretend that I have an answer. Too many decades of corruption, ignorance, and pretending to be a what we are not definitely amplified the results of the hurricane, making it fatal. I am not arrogant enough to call names, but I can tell you who is NOT at fault: my kids. In a way, they are my kids, the children I welcome into my dimly lit classroom are not responsible for the chaos, they are not at fault. And the children who are suffering worse conditions around the island are also NOT to blame for the mistakes of older generations. And they are the ones suffering.
They are CHILDREN. We need to assure them drinkable water, a safe roof, food, and education. If we fail to provide them these things, we have failed humankind.