What struck me most when I binge watched MadMen were the sensibilities of the era portrayed in the series. I remember the show incorporating the assassination of President Kennedy and the mother would not let her children see any of it on television and she herself was distraught and in tears. I don’t think she even talked about it with her husband with the children around.
As assassinations, attacks, mass murders and other horrific events have been covered in more and more detail on television we become less and less sure of what children can and should know, and when. I believe this is a legitimate concern for librarians, educators and teachers.
I have a few suggestions that stem from both my time as a social studies teacher and as a school librarian. Please, continue the discussion of what has worked for you and your children in the discussion section so that we can work together to find the best ways possible to educate young people about the world around them.
- Know the child or children you’re working with. Be aware of their age, cognitive development and personal histories. Younger children are not as able to perform high level critical thinking and lack historical, geographic or political facts that are necessary to thoroughly understand situations. They may benefit from learning where countries are located on a map, the major immigrant groups who have settled in your community or reading stories or folktales that help them appreciate differences.
- Keep your opinions to yourself. Because of their level of cognitive development, children’s lack of factual understand, young people are easily influenced by the opinions of adults. They’re most likely to accept what authority figures say is correct and true. We may want children to agree with our opinions on hot topics (because our opinion is The Right Opinion, right?) but it’s best to raise children who are able to make their own decisions. This will be very hard to do with younger children, they’re just not ready for that and as parents, it may sometimes be impossible. Children may learn about local immigrants and decide ways to celebrate their presence or develop social service projects. Some may have seen the news and have questions, tell them what they’re ready to hear. I like this father’s approach with his young son.
Present older children with both sides of an argument so that they can form opinions. Find good articles or editorials that dig into an opinion. Ask the students to understand how each article tries to position them (even if it’s a fact based article), have them identify the facts and opinions and even have them fact check.
- Don’t focus on the horror of the event itself. Look for causes. Celebrate heroes. Follow the aftermath with older children to find actions, legislation and other outcomes from the tragedy. This will help them understand how events, even in Beirut, shape our lives. Guide young people to fully understand issues so they don’t look like these journalists.
- Invest in your own knowledge. If you’re a teacher, don’t present books or articles you’ve not read yourself. Build your background knowledge but, don’t be afraid to learn with children. Guide them in the research process so that they can find credible sources and accurate information. Parents and educators don’t have to know everything, but it we need to know where to go for answers.
- Incorporate current events into your curriculum, your dinner table conversation or long car drives whenever you can and in ways that are age appropriate. The world is getting smaller and young people need to be aware of events around them. Quiz them on capitals or world leaders. Teachers and librarians can work with colleagues that combine curricular areas to make meaning lessons that approach topics from different perspectives. Interpreting refugee artwork can be as meaningful calculating how far a refugee will travel to get from Damascus to a port in Italy.
Adults are involved in extremely heated debates about permitting refugees into our states. It’s easy to repeat the sound byte from the loudest politician, but our nation will not be a strong nation of that’s all we do, if we don’t teach our older children to question why ISIS exists, why we’ve heard so little about bombings in Beirut or what actions the US president and military have taken in the days since Paris was bombed. Younger ones can learn that you can’t judge people by the color of their skin, that you can’t trust strangers and that when bad things happen we have to care for one another. It’s a tough world our there and while we’d like to avoid these discussions with children, we have to be responsible and find the best way to do it.