Sep 1, 2011 1
I used to make educational software.
Ten years ago, I had put together a pretty workable situation where we made the software in Holland and sold it in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was also teaching web design at the local technical college. I had a couple of producers in Groningen making the music, creating the animations, and doing the programming, while I was in the US working with a educational curriculum consultant. I functioned as a photographer (for making images of the subject matter, and was the project initiator and organizer). I was also working with a nationally renowned artist, Dr. Jerry Butler (a wonderful man – always wearing the “white hat” and doing what’s right). Dr. Butler connected me to a professional video company that handled the pressing and distribution of the CD (including booklet and teaching guide) to thousands of school children. He was also very connected and was instrumental in getting us a legitimate audience and market.
International production at its best
An American/Dutch production, we made these CD/ROMs that were designed for 9 to 10 year old children and the subject matter covered the entire curriculum for their education at that level, including: math, history, English, art, and other subject matters. The CD/ROM had tutorial information, quizzes, virtual reality walkthrough tours, photos, links to supporting subject matter on the internet. It was up-datable, and ran on both Windows and Apple computers. What’s not to like?
We had produced the CD/ROM, shown it to teachers, who then showed it to their classes. They loved it, both the teachers and the students alike. Students liked it because they were entertained, they learned, and they could go at their own pace. The teachers liked it too because they could teach more subject matters to more students, and it gave them time for one on one work with the student while the other students were absorbed in learning the other material (a good way to adjust to the possibility of large as class sizes). As a matter of fact, they liked it so much that they decided to include this project for government funding of this and other such programs to improve the educational opportunities of students in Wisconsin.
Forward to the Capitol
In what seems like a once in a lifetime connection, Dr. Butler had been able to arrange a large demonstration, that was to be given to the legislature, about the possibilities of educational software. That means that he had made arrangements to present to both sides of the legislature (the House of Representatives, as well as the state Senate), as well as the Governor. We had been selected to give demonstrations in the state capitol building, and we were to receive full press coverage. This was a big deal, and I planned to make the best of it.
The day before the event, we had meetings with teachers and students, and we rehearsed what we were going to say and do. We had a large screen TV projection unit brought in so that the screens would be visible from the gallery in the capital building. Extra seating was made available to students, teachers, the press, and the public. Everything was planned, and as far as I could tell, everything was going to go perfectly.
The day of the show was perfect. The weather was warm and sunny, and I had my stack of papers, laptop, remote control for the projector, and everything else ready for the big day. It was about 8:30 am, and I was putting on my suit and tie. Just before I left home, I flicked on the TV at home to make a check of the weather and headlines. The news program said the weather was going to be perfect that day, but there was some disaster in New York – it seems a plane hit a skyscraper. No time for bad news, I have a presentation to give, and out the door I went.
When I got to the capitol building, I was in for a big surprise – they were moving out the projector, the big screen TVs, computers and the chairs. I was in total shock, this was my big day, and now everything is getting dismantled. I asked “What’s going on?” The Capitol Police replied “It’s because of what happened in New York.” I was confused, how could a plane accident cause this kind of response in Wisconsin?
It took me all day to go through the capitol, dismantle all of the equipment, get it back to a secure place, and see to all of the people you have to check in with to shut down such an event. Therefore, I never got in front of a TV news program to find out what was going on – until 5 PM that evening. That said, I knew there was a problem, because people were captivated by their televisions, some even crying.
I finally got home, pulled off my jacket, and turned on the TV. That’s when I saw the World Trade Center buildings go down. My first thought was, how horrible for those people in the airplane and in the building. And almost at once, I realized – there goes my education career. I knew then and there that our economy would forgo education in exchange for military security.
By that time, I had begun to receive emails from my NY friends, as well as calls from family members in NY that called to say they were okay. I also began getting emails from international friends to communicate to me how shocked they were over the events of the day.
Tallying the damage
This was a day of horrors, as was the aftermath. I am not tone deaf to what happened, and why. My life was not snuffed out in an instant. I did not fall flaming from the heavens, nor was I crushed into dust while rendering aid to others. I did not fight or die in the subsequent wars, nor did I have any direct relationship to any of the people who perished that day – I lived half a continent away from New York so my connections were minimal.
That said, I don’t know anybody who had the presentation of their career halted in its tracks that day. I don’t know anybody else that was going to meet with the highest levels of government to chart a new path for education within the state. I didn’t die – but, I had to deal with a catastrophic change in my career and in my life, and find a way to adapt to the present reality. We all did.
No safe haven from catastrophe
Because we are all interconnected, we are all affected by the events of that day. These events, not only destroyed lives, they destroyed possibilities. The kids that were then 9 to 10 years old, are now adults 19 to 20 years old – some making it to college, most not. I’m sure that their educational possibilities have been crimped due to long term effects of these events: the loss of educational funding, loss of choice, loss of competitiveness, and the weakening of the economy and society as a result.
When you look at the changes in the societies, economies, and politics, you can see that the events of that day have had a rather long-tail effect on the entire world and everyone in it – that is, no one is immune to catastrophic change.