Thursday, September 11, 2008

What to say about the unspeakable?

Seven years ago I was teaching Spanish part-time at a small Christian school. Classes were not canceled on September 11 - even though some parents kept their kids home. The principal decided to continue with school, providing some normalcy and getting the kids away from their televisions for a little while. It was hard for me to tear myself away from the t.v. and get ready for that afternoon's classes. And hard for me to think of standing in front of all those kids. How could I teach on a day like this?

When I arrived at school, I was encouraged to let the kids talk if it seemed like they needed to or to go on with class if they seemed okay. I got a little Spanish in that day and lots of questions from wide-eyed first-, second-, and third-graders. I don't remember most of what they asked. I don't remember anything I said. I didn't know much more than they did at that point. I did my best to give them information, listen to their concerns, assure them that God is in control - even when scary things happen.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how to speak to kids about difficult issues, how to give them truth that's appropriate for their age. How do you talk about tragedy with a child? How do you explain 9/11?

One mom posed that question on Yahoo answers. I think most responders thought she was asking about math or something. One pointed her to September 11 Digital Archive, which seems to have a lot of information (photos, emails, etc.), but is not kid-specific and may not be the best format for younger children.

I also found an article entitled "9-11: What Should We Tell Our Children?" written just one year after the fact. It had some great principles (telling kids the facts, not overgeneralizing or stereotyping, helping them deal with uncertainty), but the examples given seemed like they would go over the heads of most children. How could you apply those ideas in a way a child could understand?

Apparently, in New Jersey they are working on a school curriculum that will explore the 9/11 attacks and what we can learn from them. It'll be interesting to see how that turns out.


Photo by Victoria Chapman. CCL.

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