It’s beautiful today in New England. Big blue sky, trees budding, birds singing…all the hard-won spoils of winning the war against a long, cold winter. It should be a day that requires no thought more challenging than “can I get away with sandals?” and no question more difficult than “Lunch- inside or out?” Unfortunately, it’s a day that’s going to require some tricky conversations in classrooms around the country. Some kids are going to come to school with a level of awareness that somebody important was killed last night. They may have a simplistic view of Bin Laden as Darth Vader or maybe they’ll have a “big win” perspective (“USA! USA!”) Perhaps they may know nothing at all if, like me, they live in a home where bedtime comes early and there’s not time for TV or radio in the mad scramble to get out the door in the morning.
I don’t envy those elementary teachers who have to process questions about “Who was killed?” and “Who did the killing?” and “Why did anyone get killed anyway?” There are absolutely no easy answers- especially in this politically charged environment. While this particular death may bring some relief, some level of closure, it’s also somehow unseemly to celebrate any death, no matter how viscerally satisfying it may be. As the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry points out, processing terrorism with kids can be tricky, and it seems to me that the slippery-slope potential here is pretty high. (I still remember the scenes of celebration in the Middle East post 9/11 and, even though I know that those pictures represented a small subset of those communities, I’m horrified to imagine that similar images of celebrating Americans will be broadcast to the world.)
What would I imagine a Critical Skills teacher doing today? In some cases, nothing but what was already planned. There’s value in business-as-usual and comfort in the expected and many kids don’t need to spend any time on this at all. A quick acknowledgment that something big happened and an artful redirect towards the next task on the agenda may be the best route to take. In other cases (with older children), I can imagine carefully facilitated conversations, carried out in classrooms where community, safety and respect are intentionally maintained, around Big Questions like
Why is the death of one individual necessary?
Under what circumstances?
Is revenge the same as justice?
Is celebration an appropriate response to death?
I can also imagine more targeted conversations around the differences between Al Qaeda and Islam, the perspectives that other nations may hold on this particular event, the possible positive and negative outcomes of Bin Laden’s death, or the place that this event will hold in history 10, 20, or 50 years from now.
No matter the specifics of the conversations (or lack thereof), I would expect that each community of learners would continue to be respectful of different opinions, supportive of varied responses and ever cognizant of the cultures, families and wishes of the students in the room. Just like every other day.