32,000 feet above Arkansas...
I feel a bump and a thump and then listen to the calm voice of the captain. One of the plane’s two engines has failed and the flight crew is instructed to prepare for an emergency landing in Little Rock. Passengers are told not to carry any stowed luggage because they will be exiting through the tail section of the plane. Not to worry, the pilot assures nervous passengers; the plane is designed to fly with only one engine. He expects to be on the ground in less than 12 minutes. I glance at the portly gentleman sitting next to me in the aisle seat and wonder if he will block my exit. The man appears untroubled by the latest news and is enjoying a small bag of onion and garlic potato chips. Why couldn’t I be sitting next to an anorexic swimsuit model?
The pilot’s voice returns to the intercom system. “We have been approved to land at Little Rock Airport and the runway has been cleared for our arrival. Remember to listen carefully to the flight crew’s instructions.”
I’m listening. Carefully.
The plane takes a precipitous descent and I tighten my seatbelt. I glance around and look at the faces of my fellow passengers. I notice a young child playing with a stuffed animal and watch his mother clench his small hand. Are these the people I may soon meet at the Pearly Gates? Will there be a line due to the sudden rush of new arrivals? And if so, will the man sitting next to me still be eating chips? Crazy thoughts, but my mind is trying to make sense of this rather unique experience. A stewardess walks up and down the aisle and reminds passengers not to leave their seats. A man wearing a business suit asks to use the restroom. The stewardess says no; he must remain in his seat. The man complains that he really needs to use the restroom. The flight attendant gives in and tells him to “make it quick.”
I glance outside my window and see the airport in the distance. The runway is lined with fire trucks and emergency service vehicles. Flashing red lights illuminate the airstrip and, in a perverse sort of way, make me feel important. The low hills surrounding Little Rock appear beautiful in the afternoon sun. The captain’s voice interrupts the still of the cabin. “Flight crew prepare for landing. Passengers are advised that we will be exiting through the rear of the airplane.”
So this is it? A seemingly routine flight from New York to Texas to Oklahoma will soon end on a runway in Little Rock. I think about the two airplane crashes I responded to in NYC while working for the NYPD; both planes crashed while trying to land. A lot of fuel and a lot of fire made both disasters. Curiously, my fellow passengers remain composed and my neighbor keeps eating chips. What if he plans to finish his snack before exiting the plane? Do I jump over him when we land? How would that look? Not very brave, I presume. How silly that my fate may be decided by a bag of Wise Potato Chips.
I feel another thump-the sound of wheels hitting blacktop. The plane skids to a halt and steers clear of the main terminal. Two stewardesses direct passengers, row-by-row, to the rear of the plane and all leave safely. And no, I did not need to leap over the corpulent passenger; he stuffed the bag of chips in his jacket and sprinted to the exit.
Chicken Little once created mass hysteria by telling the animals of the forest that the sky was falling down. The chicken jumps to this conclusion because an acorn hit him on the head. All the animals believe what they are told and eventually fall prey to a cunning fox. I’m probably thinking about Chicken Little because I just fell from the sky, and I proudly watched the brave crew and passengers of flight 733 not fall victim to the choking sensation of hysteria.
The fable of Chicken Little is a cautionary tale and one worth remembering. Our education system has been hit on the head by many acorns, each a critic who is trying to convince parents that our schools are in dire straights. These critics are skilled at the art of hysteria and try to convince parents that classroom teachers are to blame for the bump on the head. These critics understand the power and poison of hysteria and cleverly bring parents to the lair of the cunning fox. And the fox is always waiting. There is a crucible inside the fox’s den and it is fueled with the kindle of expendable teachers. Critics laugh and rejoice that the flame burns bright. But at the pit of the crucible are the charred remains of all the children manipulated and consumed by the unscrupulous fox.
Seen any foxes, lately?
The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.