King In The Classroom – But what do we tell the children?
Words Ben King
With the centenary of the end of WWI on the horizon it is perhaps more prudent now than ever that we consider what we teach in schools and what current affairs we discuss with our children.
I was a secondary school student when planes hit the twin towers, it was my generation’s iconic moment. Our moon landing, our JFK. I knew, stood in my living room aghast, that for the first time in my life I was watching the beginning of a war that would touch my life. Not in a bomb shelter in the back garden kind of way but a tangible, life changing way, none the less.
Looking back on it now what strikes me is the complete, utter and total lack of discussion that took place in my school at the time. I was 13, Sky was gaining traction and the internet was growing in power. My friends and I were starting to have access to phones and new media and with it came a better knowledge of world events. My school however were entirely silent on the issue. They ignored it, pretended that one of the most influential events of the last hundred years hadn’t happened. Those of us scared, concerned or merely wanting questions answered were not given a forum for this to take place. And I wasn’t wrong, it did touch my life.
The resulting conflicts saw no fewer than a dozen of the classmates I was learning with at the time, go to war and myself do a short stint in the Territorial Army. One of my best friends followed his brother to Afghanistan with the Royal Marines. Both openly say they came back changed men. Worse still, in my second year of teaching one of my children lost her father. Blown up by an IED, his four children left without a dad. It was the single hardest moment in my teaching career. She was supported amazingly, charities were involved instantly, outside agencies helping the family cope. In conjunction with the family we spoke to her classmates, answered questions and heard their worries. We didn’t hide it from them, the media frenzy of four pretty blonde children aggrieved, made it impossible even if we’d wanted to.
However, I digress.
But this is important. We are living in an age of mass, instantaneous media. Sadly the modern world is a scary place, like the historical one was and now we hear about it far more and in glorious HD as technology allows. Should we hide the horrors of the world from our children, pretend it doesn’t happen? No. Absolutely no.
When Grenfell happened, when Westminster and Lee Rigby occurred, I refused to lie to my children. Temper the truth with compassion, limit the details and gruesomeness, yes of course. But lie, or ignore? Never.
Children deserve the truth. Better they hear it from me in a safe, calm environment than in snippets of conversations they are told they are too young to hear. Naturally parents have a huge role to play and I’d hope these conversations are happening in the home. But it is different in school we can use it as a learning tool, they can discuss with their friends and feel like everyone is starting at the same point.
Over the next weeks I’ll share with my cherubs some of the details of The Great War. The fact mustard gas choked and blinded? Yes. The fact that men sometimes woke to find their numbed feet being eaten by rats, no.
We, as educators, are trusted with professional judgement, to me that doesn’t end at anything controversial. If anything it’s when it is most important. We may have different values or levels of what’s OK to share but so do parents. Facts and knowledge are important. This world belongs to our children just as much as us and they deserve to be given the chance to talk about what’s happening in it.