Our students live in a bubble called school. They are sheltered, protected, and innocent. While our IB MYP and Diploma Program strive to develop internationalism in our students and strengthen their learner profile attributes, our students are sheltered from so many realities of the world. I am worried.
There is a war against ISIS, a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram steals “our girls” in Nigeria, Egypt is struggling as democracy has slipped away, the intractable Israeli/Palestinian problem persists, Ebola devastates parts of West Africa, climate change threatens the globe. Wars, beheadings, kidnappings, disease, and natural disasters: where do you start with generating understanding? It struck me the other day that there are probably students of mine who are viewing some of the graphic videos posted on youtube coming out of the middle east. How do they make sense of this violence? I am worried.
What do our students know (and care) about these challenges in the world? As we develop and nurture our students as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and inquirers who are compassionate and empathetic, how are we helping them learn about and make sense of current events, current news stories, and the state of the world?
My hunch is that some of our students have an idea about the events around the world. However, most middle and high school students are so caught up in their own worlds of social engagement with peers that dismissing the news is easy to do. Most are probably innocently naïve about events in the world. Frankly, and in my humble estimation, the general population of the United States displays a similarly shallow depth of understanding and engagement with important world challenges.
Generating understanding of world issues rests squarely on the shoulders of teachers and parents. Adult influence is critical. Engaging with kids through conversations is an important step. Demonstrating thoughtful inquiry around events, sharing opinions, opening up dialogue has great benefits. Simple strategies of watching the news together, sharing online news reports, and having informed conversations would go a long way to generating thoughtful understanding. I believe it is imperative to engage children around current world topics.
Parents and teachers must engage thoughtfully and intentionally around difficult world challenges, here are some things to consider:
- Provide exposure to the news, watch the news with your child.
- Find out what they know about various topics. Listen attentively and ask probing questions to generate responses.
- Pay close attention to their responses
- Allow kids their own opinions
- Avoid making generalizations about groups of individuals
- Be careful about stating opinions as absolute fact, this can shut down thinking and inquiry
- Remember there is much good in the world that should be celebrated along with the many challenges we face
- Remember it’s an opportunity for growth and learning
Some parents are concerned about opening up dialogue around “scary” world issues and topics. Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D. Child Study Center at NYU Medical Center says “Contrary to parents’ fears, talking about violent acts will not increase a child’s fear”. Parents and educators play a critical role in supporting the Bubble of school while ensuring that students generate skills to understand, interpret, and manage future lives outside of that bubble. If adults don’t help generate understanding, how will our children begin to learn about and reflect on the challenging events of our time?
Potential resources for parents and teachers