Saturday, November 14, 2015

When The World Knocks On Our Classroom Door

The tragedy that befell Paris, France, Friday night cast a dark shadow across the globe. You could feel the collective human fear grip us all. As a mother of two young girls, I had to find a way to tune it out and protect them from the violence that was too much for their too-young ears. We cuddled up on the couch and got lost in a movie.

Today we continued in that vein and went to the movie theater to see The Peanuts Movie. I was taken by surprise as Snoopy took to the skies to fight the infamous Red Baron over the French countryside. One scene showed them battling over Paris, around the Eiffel Tower, as Snoopy's doghouse was sprayed with bullet holes. You could hear in the silence of the theater as the adults all held their breath.
So as I look to heading back to my classroom on Monday, I know that the terror in Paris will follow me there as well. It was true after Columbine, 9/11, and Sandy Hook. Teachers everywhere will be preparing for how to talk with students about the horror that took place Friday night. My students and I are reading The Giver, a sci-fi dystopian novel that asks, What if we isolated ourselves from the rest of the world, from our history, from our emotions? In times when human beings demonstrate brutality in a way that is unfathomable to most of us, it is likely that some of my students will wonder if Jonas' community might be onto something. The Community is without problems or pain, terror or fear, destruction or despair. The images from Paris or Beirut or Baghdad make it seem easy for us to relinquish ourselves and our rights as humans that many of us take for granted anyway. 

Prior to starting our study of The Giver, my 7th graders explored what citizenship means. We identified four pillars to help us define the concept: truth, justice, responsibility, and equality. We talked about how citizenship works in our society. We read various picture books, examined dystopias depicted in various commercials and listened to song lyrics with dystopian protagonists. Finally, we studied the short film 2081, based on Kurt Vonnegut's short story masterpiece Harrison Bergeron. We watched as America had devolved into a dystopia in the name of Equality. Harrison rebels against the government, that handicaps citizens to ensure no one is extraordinary, and sacrifices himself in order to expose the truth of their society. Before he is shot and killed, there is a moment where we see his graffiti stencil that reads, Live free or die for death is not the worst of evils. As my students grapple with their own fears growing up in a time where evil is seen all too often, I want to focus their thinking around this notion that Harrison Bergeron tried to express to his fellow citizens.

That when we allow fear to force us into a retreat from our freedoms, our rights, our democratic culture, we do not honor those lives that have been lost. Events like these should remind us to be more vigilant about defending our freedom. When we allow ourselves to be swallowed by our fear, we end up losing those parts of life that are most precious.

The chapters in The Giver that we will read together this week will have us watch Jonas as he comes to understand the truth of his Community, the lack of justice when you don't allow people the freedom to choose, the false sense of responsibility created when no one feels anything, and how equality is hollow when Sameness is the culture.  Literature allows us to talk about ourselves and reflect on both the best and worst in society. So while, talking about the state of our world with my students is never easy, I feel blessed to have a lens like Lois Lowry's brilliant novel to help us gain perspective on overwhelming events like those of this weekend. Good luck to all my colleagues this week as we face yet another tragedy, hold our students' hands, listen and teach.


Madame Coons said...

Wow, so powerful and spot on! You have such a gift with words. The 4 pillars you discussed with your students can help me frame my discussion of this tragedy with my french class.

Laura Yerou said...

Molly thank you for sharing. You are such an incredible teacher. How incredibly lucky are your students to have you.

Laura Yerou said...

Molly thank you for sharing. You are such an incredible teacher. How incredibly lucky are your students to have you.

Corina said...

I have already received emails from very confused students. I hope that real discussions also took place in their homes as these events affect us all in so many ways... many yet to unfold.