Saturday, April 20, 2013

Talking About Terrorism with Students

Yesterday my students wanted to talk about the events that had taken place in Boston this last week.  They were sad and anxious about the horrific acts of violence.  And they were sad and anxious and afraid that Muslims would be once again seen as terrorists.

All week they had shared their theories - that these acts were carried out by North Korea or maybe by someone trying to make it appear Muslims were involved.... a conspiracy of sorts.  On Friday morning they were subdued. 

My students are 12 and 13 years old.  Their parents have choices about where their children can be educated - there are private Islamic schools available.  These young people are members of our class, our society and our country and yet I feel that they are still on the outside looking in.  This is our fault.  We must immediately begin to recognize that political acts of violence and oppression are offshoots of beliefs other than those of religious faith.

We talked yesterday morning.  We talked about how the teachings of any religious founder - Buddha, Mohammed, Christ, Guru Nanak - did not say that killing and maiming other people was okay.  We talked about the timeline of the events surrounding these bombings in Boston.   We talked about the history of Chechnya.  We talked out how the violence and horror in Boston was reflected daily in countries like Syria and Afghanistan around the world.  We talked about how some young Canadian men had been involved in a suicide bombing in Somalia.  We talked about how in Canada we are living in a bubble of peace and safety that people around the world can’t share.  We talked about extremism.

My young students, who I love, asked me why.  Why would people do such a thing?  Why would they carry out such violence against others? 

As an educator I have to ask myself whether we have done enough over the years to teach and promote tolerance and an understanding of others.  It was hard for me to look  into my students’ eyes and see fear that they would be blamed.  I have seen people post that it was unfortunate these young men who acted with such violence in Boston were Muslims as this would set back relations with Muslim Americans.  Why should it?  When did we become unable or unwilling to separate the acts of an individual from society as a whole.  So now I ask the same questions my students asked me.... Why would we do such a thing?  Why would we carry out such violence against others?

So my question or challenge to educators is..... what can we do?  How can we promote critical thinking and understanding and tolerance so that 15 years from now when my students take their place as adults in our world there are actually answers to their questions.  How can we help shape their future so that they are safe and included?  How can we help people understand that it is the actions of the individual that matter?  How can we shift the perceptions of the world?