We’re living in very precarious times. Since the new president has taken office, it feels like everyday there’s a new headline threatening to take away rights from already disenfranchised communities. As adults, we’re feeling anxious and worried. Don’t lie to yourself and think that students don’t notice-they’re most definitely watching us and figuring out how to make sense of their world.
Whether you have Muslim students or not, it’s important that as we welcome back children from this difficult weekend, we, as educators, address the recent attempt to ban people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
They’re too young to understand!
Some may argue that children don’t know what’s going on. To a degree, I agree. If we, as educators, don’t process information with our students, they won’t know what’s happening around them. And what’s dangerous is, children hear snippets of the news, parts of our conversations, and are often left alone to infer what’s happening around them, or to them. If we don’t sit down and give children space to ask questions and to process what they’re hearing, we leave them to interpret, and misinterpret very difficult topics. This can lead to a heightened level of anxiousness and misinformation for children.
How do I begin difficult conversations?
When addressing tough topics with children, adults often get stuck because they don’t know where to start. I aways suggest beginning difficult conversations by stating simple facts and by asking students what they think, or already know about the topic. Listen to what children are saying, or not saying, and allow their voice to guide your conversation. As you listen, you can clarify misinterpretations and misunderstandings by providing the basic facts. The most important thing, however, is to ensure that you’re allowing students to process information. Give them time to chew on facts by having them speak with a partner, illustrate their feelings, or write a free response. I have a habit of oversharing and providing too many facts, sometimes. But I’ve learned it’s most important to guide students through difficult topics and provide opportunities for them to process the information, rather than me taking up airtime.
But it’s so depressing!
When addressing difficult topics such as xenophobia and racism, the mood of the room can feel down. If not dealt with carefully, students can leave the classroom with more worries than when they entered. When speaking about the realities of the world, it’s important to remind students that, even in troubled times, we have agency, and when we use our voices, we change the status quo.
If I were in the classroom, I would especially emphasize how, this weekend, we witnessed the power of being in solidarity and using your voice to speak against injustice. Because of people saying, “Not today, Mr. President,” the ban on Muslims entering the US has been temporarily stopped. This is a big deal, and reminds all of us of our power when we work in solidarity.
I would also connect this moment to resistance movements from the past such as sit-ins, women’s marches, protests against Vietnam, and the marches led by the United Farm Workers. It’s important to remind our students, to remind ourselves, that we have fought against hate in the past, and we have won. This moment may be new to us, but it’s not new to our ancestors. We must remember how we survived our past, so that we know how to survive our present, so that we can lay down the foundation for our future. Sankofa