Saturday, December 15, 2012

One day after CT. Thoughts from one ex-teacher

by RudyG
The 2012 Holiday Season. The day after CT.

When I was still a bilingual elementary teacher of first and second grade mexicanitos in the Denver area, tragedy was a monthly, or more, occurrence. Getting evicted from their homes, their father put in jail, their mother losing her job, not having food in their house, or electricity or water, an older brother wounded in a drug deal, unmarried sister pregnant, or health problems--from open-heart surgery for a six-year-old to daily monitoring of another for severe asthma--were the news that entered our classroom. Teachers deal with the effect such incidents have on the learning environment, even if it seems to affect only one child. It's not just life; in some kids' cases, it is a normal part of life.

When another Columbine took place, such as the five mass shootings that occurred in the last six years, I'd introduce the issue to my five through eight-year-olds. Kids talk amongst themselves, hear adults and older siblings talk, catch some of the meaning of media news, watch photos and videos on their home TVs. They know something happened, but not always from an adult's perception capable of filtering the real from the hysterical, part of the reason I took the question head-on.

The misinterpreted "2012 end of the world" supposedly coming with the end of the Maya baktun is an example of this perception problem. I was forced to deal with this earlier this year with first graders, because some children, primarily from evangelical-worshipping families, had anxious looks bordering on panic when they talked amongst themselves. You can imagine that this might affect the learning in a room.

Getting the question out in the open didn't resolve all of every child's anxiety. But it cleared the air some. With the baktun, the children learned where the math and calendrical calculations came from and who the Maya were and what the Spanish conquistadors et al did to Mexico's indigenes and how all that tied to the children's own past. At least, I covered those at a first grade level, reaching to help six and seven-year-olds' at their thinking level.

If I still had a classroom, this next Monday I would have to deal with CT, because the kids would start the morning with that in their heads. The kids that came, that is, because there would inevitably be one or two who didn't because of parents' anxiety about having their kid in an elementary school thousands of miles from CT.

I'll not conjecture on what I would exactly say to kids next Monday, nor how I'd facilitate the discussions. But I always have started with: 1. What did you hear; 2. What questions do you have; 3. What do you think and feel about it; and 4. Are you scared of anything at this moment? And then the discussion would go, back and forth, revealing sometimes incredibly distorted facts, sometimes engendering tears, and more often, deep insights guided by the innocence and simple empathy that little children possess.

There's more to how the process would be completed that I won't delve into. Writing about it, drawing their feelings on paper, questions they should ask their parents that weren't deal with (especially religion-related ones), among others.

In fact, it's impossible to shield little ones against the deluge of news, talk and visual evidence about CT. Better to try to equip them with facts, let them openly express their thoughts and feelings about it and provide them an arena where they can learn and assuage some of their sense of helplessness.

Below is the preamble to the Constitution. The capitalizing of words is how it was composed and approved. In my opinion, the capitalized elements that I bolded relate directly to the failings connected to CT. I don't feel a need to explain those. I do note that the Founding Fathers did not capitalize what I underlined--the common defence. What they felt didn't need such emphasis is sadly the one place where most of our tax money is wasted.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America,

Beginning from the Reagan era, mental health was chopped and continues today to be an area "ridiculously underfunded." A pivotal area relating to the general Welfare and domestic Tranquility.

Of course, as there should be, the issues of gun control and school security have already begun inundating our national dialogue. The first one is a natural, but not the total answer. The second is unachievable. Any madman with half a mind can bypass any forms and procedures to get into a school.

The most lamentable reaction to CT, in my view, will be the added security measures and equipment that teachers and school children will be subjected to. Leading them to fel and believe that they and every school are supposedly dangerous places. It propagates fear without at the same time being capable of assuring better security from some madman.

Worse yet, will be how such measures heighten our individual worries about our kids, our homes, our neighborhoods. Some Americans will give into that fear and will retreat further into their homes. Because our world is not safe. Is threatening. Must be filled with madmen.

And they will welcome additional tax money spent on police, military, surveillance, security screening, coming from an acceptance of the pitiful idea that giving up our privacy, civil rights and freedoms over to the authorities will somehow be better for our children. The same thing that happened after 9/11.

And then the Constitution would read COMMON DEFENSE, with the previously capitalized words relegated to lower case. And that would be a much more complicated discussion to have with the little ones.

Click here to see an interview about a new book, Rebecca Coffey's Murders Most Foul: The School Shooters in Our Midst.

by Rudy Ch. Garcia, author of El Viaje de Clarisa, featured this month in Revista Iguana. A children's fable written in Spanish. It follows a skinny, young girl (an ant) who learns to struggle and overcome the problems that life seems to never stop throwing into her path. Something possibly too relevant to our children.


Thelma T. Reyna said...

Rudy, this is one of the most thoughtful commentaries I've read about this horrific tragedy. As a former teacher myself, I understand what you're saying about the children's fears and confusions. Also, my son is a police officer with extensive experience dealing with mentally ill people. He agrees that, until we devote the needed resources to mental health in our society, these tragedies will continue. Perhaps your next essay can touch more on this aspect of the CT tragedy. Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Rudy.

Dan H. said...

I will be facing a room full of 1st graders on Monday so I appreciate your insite into this sad event.