Several members of the District of Columbia Fire Department visited our school today to give a presentation on career options to the senior class. In short, joining DCFD is a way to secure a job and a future. I was pleasantly surprised by students’ attentiveness for a presentation that didn’t have much beyond the whole “this-is-your-future-so-take-it-seriously” theme that occurs in so many visitor speeches.
Things were, it seemed, running smoothly. The fire chief gave some opening remarks about the importance of the job and how working for DCFD is ultimately about serving one’s community. Then various deputies and commanders explained their stories, typically about how they’d transformed from aimless DCPS graduates to committed DCFD employees.
But then, to add irony where it wasn’t needed, there was a hitch–one that made concrete the firefighter’s job description: a real fire.
And so (in a moment that was, in retrospect, absurdly comical) the fire alarm went off; panicked and confused students began spilling out of the auditorium and onto the school’s parking lot; and stripe-wearing senior officials of DCFD coolly directed their minions, who dealt with the fire.
Rumor has it that some students had set something on fire in a basement bathroom. I realized, then, that the burning smell I had sensed during DCFD’s presentation was not, after all, there for rhetorical effect. It was real.
After several wailing fire trucks arrived, the alarm was shut off and everyone was asked to return to the building. So we did.
(Note: I justify my facetiousness in retelling this story by noting that no one was hurt and the damage to the school was relegated to a specific section of the building.)
This fire incident, of course, absolutely destroyed the learning environment for the day. Many students had crept away from campus during the chaos. The students who had returned to class did so reluctantly, using the moment as an excuse to withhold any initiative to continue with the lesson.
Of course, students immediately started up the rumor mill. So, instead of talking about the rhetorical effect of Orwell’s description of Winston’s imprisonment in Chapter 1 of Part 3 of 1984, we talked about (a) fires, (b) stupidity, (c) students, and (d) fires caused by the stupidity of students.
The debate was, at times, furious, with various students contributing interesting points. BJ observed something about student tendencies: “they’re smart on bad stuff, but not smart on good stuff. That’s sad.” MG made a critical distinction as he sought to identify the root cause: “the school‘s not what’s bad. It’s the people in it. That’s the problem!”
In keeping with the new theme for the day, my journalism students (after the commotion, only 2 showed up for 3rd period) read this article about fires at Ballou Senior High School. Compared to that school, we have it easy, it seems.