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April 5, 2012

Children drawn to Titanic tale; educators use caution

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

Debbie Shoulders teaches eighth-grade English in Clarksville, Tenn., but her new "T is for Titanic" alphabet book from Sleeping Bear Press is intended for far younger children.

"The word 'died' doesn't appear often in the book," she said. "We softened it with 'perished' or 'did not live.' The goal was to remember what the people on board contributed, not so much what happened to them."

Tracey Friedlander in Bethesda, Md., has a Titanic-obsessed 9-year-old, but she doesn't shy away from the rough stuff. She thinks the story offers teachers and parents perfect real-life lessons on perseverance, loyalty, the dangers of arrogance and the shortcomings of technology as kids learn to sort out the complexities of their own lives.

"Kids like Kade have grown up in the shadows of 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a red, yellow, green terrorist alert color code system," Friedlander said. "Like most of us, he's trying to make sense of the world around him and the accompanying human tragedies. The Titanic happens to present an incredible learning opportunity for curious minds."

Considered a marvel of shipbuilding, for instance, the luxury liner went down anyway after striking the iceberg on her maiden voyage, offering kids a solid and exciting look at the marriage between technology and human decision-making, she said.

What of human error? Was the ship traveling too fast? Why, though in line with regulations of the time — 1912 — did the Titanic set off with only 20 lifeboats for more than 2,200 people. Were poor immigrants in steerage prevented at gunpoint and by locked gates from boarding lifeboats, in favor of the wealthy?

The Titanic, Friedlander said, touches on "precarious circumstances and how someone's socio-economic class can potentially affect the way their life is valued by others and why that's inappropriate and immoral."

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