Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Too soon?

On Tuesday, Ryan came home with what I can only assume is a 9/11-themed craft.

It's a red and white striped construction paper thing with a blue pentagon in the middle, with an 11 in the middle of the pentagon. And he drew a few stars on it with a red crayon. And there's a piece of yarn on top so you can hang it - maybe it's a flag? 

All this begs the question, what was the lesson that went along with this craft? How do you teach second graders - six- and seven-year-olds with special needs - about terrorism? About non-state actors who attack civilians? About the possibility that their parents might not come home from work one night? About war and fear-mongering and heroism and bad politics?

Eleven years ago I was living in Queens and working in Manhattan. I still can't stand to look at photos from that day, because they make me smell that awful ashy smoke.

I stared at the wobbly-cut edges of the construction paper pentagon and wondered how this lesson was framed for my son. He is too young, too innocent, to understand any of the emotionally-charged lessons of our recent history.

Then I wondered, how did schools teach about Pearl Harbor around 1950? What do kids learn about Martin Luther King Jr. when they're working on those MLK Day coloring sheets?

I have no doubt it is important to teach about 9/11 in schools, but how, and at what age or level of development? I read a beautiful lesson plan written by the 4 Action Initiative. They recommend, "It is crucial to teach difficult topics in a way that doesn’t increase a child’s sense of vulnerability or helplessness," and then suggests highlighting the importance of proper evacuation procedures and emergency preparedness. They also suggest, "Start a conversation about how students can help through service projects and individual good deeds." The lesson plan itself starts with basic themes of diversity and being nice to people, then from this context builds up to historic events.

I asked Ryan to tell me about his craft; he said, "It got stars on it." I don't know what Ryan is learning, or what he's capable of understanding at this point, but I hope he learns more about diversity and good deeds than about anger and fear.

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