“You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear,You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,It’s got to be drummed In your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught.”(Rodgers and Hammerstein 1949 from the musical South Pacific.)
These lyrics were part of my High School yearbook back in 1971. The song was decades old then, but now over 60 years later, they are, sadly, still as relevant as ever. This past weekend in Orlando, Florida the worst mass shooting in America’s history, and the senseless murder of a rising young singing star have brought the issue of fear , prejudice, and gun violence to the forefront. ( as if it’d really ever gone away, just hidden in the shadows)
I’m lucky, my own children are adults, I teach in a High School, so my students are older and we can have frank and open discussions. How do those of you with young children and students discuss the senselessness of these events? Do you ignore them ? Do you steer the conversation away from controversial discussions? Or, do you tackle the tough questions?
As a U.S. History teacher I have wrestled at times with such questions. I truly believe we must be open to having honest and difficult discussions, we do our children and students no favors by putting our heads in the sand and pretending the world is not a scary place. How else do we implement change if we don’t confront it? We as parents and educators are charged with the task of preparing the children and young adults for the reality of the world.
I do not mean in any way to scare young children. I do not want them to be fearful and look for monsters and terrorists under their bed. However, they need to understand that life may be hard and not to be naive.There must be a balance between frightening children and being realistic. Just as they “got to be taught To hate and fear” they also have to be taught to be loving and accepting, to understand the way the world works, and to use their voice and power to change things for the betterment of all.
In my classroom I have struggled for years to keep my personal beliefs and political views out of my teaching. I believed that students should make up their own minds on issues. My classroom should not be a “bully pulpit” to push my own agenda. However my views on this have changed somewhat. No, I don’t and won’t “preach” my own feelings on a subject, but especially in an election year, and the current events of the times, many students want to hear my opinion. I now believe it is my responsibility to share with them, to open up a dialogue, create a safe space that allows students and teacher to exchange ideas, explore different sides of issues, and to formulate their own opinion. These students are hungry for answers and for change, but how can they, the future of our country, implement change if they are not exposed to all the information.We must teach them how to seek the answers they crave, to learn how to ask the needed questions.To implement change, we must show them it’s OK to be different, we must show them to be accepting, we must show them they can start the process to end the violence and hate.
Yes, I will talk with them about gun violence, yes,I will express my opinion, and most certainly yes, I will entertain, and encourage debate. I don’t want puppets echoing my sentiments, but, caring young adults who will act when necessary and have the courage of their convictions to act accordingly.
Centuries ago,Thomas Jefferson had written “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” As educators and teachers, let us use the responsibility placed on our shoulders to “carefully teach” our children.
Let us inform them, teach them, carefully, and with age appropriate language, but do not shy away. Do not be fearful of expressing your opinions . But, with balance and frankness that allows for student input and understanding. They got to be taught!