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17th September 2004 at 01:00
Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms

It was almost the end of the first week of term, and the giant thermometer we keep in the TES website office to measure forum activity had already burst. The mercury was all over the floor.

Hundreds of new posters were signing up every day, busy introducing themselves. Making arrangements, cautiously at first. The old guard - that's you, Ronan, Eureka!, andy_91, blazer, ils, Nomad, Lilyofthefield, and a hundred, a thousand others, we love you all - were easing themselves back into term-time mode, defending patches, dispensing advice, shredding ministerial announcements, sharing jokes, moving old arguments into new areas.

Then, on Friday September 3, at 13.11h, another of our old friends, Hellvixen, posts. "I've just spent the past hour watching Sky News... it's all kicked off after the Russians have stormed the school... some of the pictures are horrific... it looks completely unorganised... with parents ignoring the troops and running into the school... it really beggars belief.

"How can this happen?"

Things went very quiet on the forums. It seems that even our most articulate orators were at a loss for words, just like the rest of us. It is already almost a week since this posting, but no one, in or out of the forums, has been able to offer a satisfactory answer to Hellvixen's question.

Some tried. Discussion of the Beslan tragedy continued over the weekend, but it was muted. A debate over the ethics of media coverage gets going.

Would there be as much sympathy if the victims were not "white, or close to white, like us"?

Mercator reminds us that, in at least one way, Russian schools are not at all like ours. "Having worked in a school in Russia, I know that the first day is one of joy and anticipation," he says. " This simply adds to my horror at the terrorists' behaviour."

But no one has got much beyond Mysiu's comment on Friday night: "I do not begin to understand the geographical or political issues and am certainly in no position to judge those in authority; all I can see is a terrible loss of life and a very sad indictment of human nature."

Gradually, the Beslan threads slip down the page. On Wednesday, Charles Clarke announces his plans for "extended schools" with breakfast and after-hours clubs, and the Opinion forum is incandescent; it's as though term had started all over again.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website (

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