Monday is current affairs day in my class. That doesn’t mean we don’t discuss everyday events any other day, but we spend time specifically every Monday – reviewing their weekend and what the children have seen in the news. As a primary school teacher, I’ve always thought this is something invaluable, especially to decode and (ultimately) debate the world around the children as they try and make sense of it for themselves. In my experience, this is something that all learners gain from; regardless of their ability in the classroom, as their access to news and perceptions of it is not ability based.
Today, however, provoked different discussions.
Needless to say, the weekend’s events prompted lots of discussions – mixed in with observations and considerations, was the potentially tricky element of having several Muslim children in the class. As one would expect from 10-11 year olds, there was a fair amount of exaggeration, panic and hyperbole, but I was so impressed by their sensitivity towards their fellow children who could have been made to feel awkward.
Notwithstanding this, as the post’s title suggests, the news doesn’t always make my life easy. Given their age, the children’s understanding of the news around them is always tempered by headlines, pictures, adults and conversations they overhear – thankfully they do not have too much input from the Internet, yet! So, when one of my class asked,
“But, why are some people against Muslims just because their Muslims, they’re not all in Islamic State are they? It’s like saying that all Germans were Nazis, just because Nazis were Germans!”
I had realised the power of what we were discussing before we started, however from this questions, the discussion freewheeled across two other news topics from last week, which made the children question their world and how it reflects their experiences in school. How the messages we tell them in school and try to develop them as individuals – particularly applying a choices/consequences model, i.e; you always have a choice, but there are always consequences attached to those choices, whether positive or negative. This allows children to have scope for freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, but not be forced or constrained towards an expected goal. Clearly this provides a rollercoaster ride at times, but done sensitively doesn’t cost emotionally for the individual or the group and allows the children to grow as an individual and a collective.
So, to today’s news discussion.
You see, answering questions such as, “Why do people do that?” and “Are we at risk?” are easy, compared to the way the discussion developed when one child asked, “But, does that all make it right to go and bomb people?” This was an extreme Thunk and the children really engaged with it – not somewhere I had planned or anticipated! The children’s general consensus was it wasn’t, fine if you’re a 10-11 year old, but not so good if you’re the Labour Leader! However, the reason was summed up by two children, “Well two wrongs don’t make a right.” and another who pointed out, “But haven’t I.S said they did it because of bombings against them, so won’t bombing them again make it worse? We’re told that we shouldn’t react and retaliate, so what’s different?”
As if this wasn’t enough, one of the children – who had sat patiently as the conversation continued and so an observer would have been forgiven for being presuming that they weren’t listening, raised their hand and calmly asked, “It’s a bit like when we killed that man the other day isn’t it?”
This simple comment led to a wide ranging discussion – excellent as it’s Anti-Bullying Week, where one child stated asked who this person was – as they’d not really heard of him. From the explanations of other children the child asked, “So he was killed, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong for ages?” Whilst other children pointed out that he had killed people and made videos of this, the child stuck to their guns and said, “Yes, but if a bully, because that’s what he basically is, stopped bullying, would it be ok if a group ganged up on him and beat him up? Because, it sounds like that’s what happened to me.”
I was genuinely blown away by this. Our simple conversation about the weekend’s news, a way to increase interest in the news, had taken an unexpected turn and I was so fortunate to be able to witness it – and it had nothing (really) to do with me. No pictures, no videos, no stimuli apart from starting in the usual way. One word. Today’s was simply, “Paris.”
Yet, unexpected was the turn of the conversation that happened next. Ignoring the fact that one child called out, I loved what was said,
“But, that’s like other things, we’re told one thing in class and school – and I agree with them, but then it’s different everywhere else.”
This bemused some of the other children, so with encouragement it was explained, “Look at all those athletes, everyone’s banned even though no-one knows if everyone took drugs. That’s not fair is it. If one, or even some, of us did something wrong, you wouldn’t punish the whole class would you. So, how is that fair?”
So, from a conversation to develop empathy within the children following the events in Paris, we took in a tour around the news, with the children considering it all in terms of their personal experiences. Was it particularly sophisticated? No, they’re Year 6. What it was, was insightful into their thoughts, considerations and a window into how they see the world around them with regard to their own lives – particularly the contradictions they see:
- Two wrongs don’t make a right – yet France have bombed IS before and after the terror attack.
- Don’t bully a bully – yet Jihadi John was killed.
- If someone changes (or appears to), give them a chance – yet Jihadi John was killed after months of inactivity.
- Don’t gang up on bullies – yet America did to Jihadi John, then others celebrated.
- Treat everyone as individuals – yet all Russian athletes have been banned.
I could add to this list; don’t lie – the F.I.F.A story and don’t cheat – footballers diving, to name but two, but they’re mine, not my class’s. A 15 minute discussion with a group of 10-11 year olds meant I learned so much, more than they ever did and witnessed them grow as they; discussed, debated, challenged, argued and explored their own perspectives – relating their thoughts to their lives.
Undoubtedly some people will ask of all of this, but is it in the curriculum/ is it on the SATs? The answer is no to both, but today was far more important than both of those. All children, regardless of ability, participated and debated sensitively with each other. The language growth was rich, their use of conjunctions was excellent and not one of them came up with a comment backed up by the word ‘apparently’!
No, today’s lesson was more akin to what Dave Keeling says learning should be, ‘A festival of the mind’, though I’d like to think of it as a
So, try it yourself tomorrow and then continue to do so. School is about education, which aren’t just tests or schemes of work. By the time my class are my age it will be 2047 and no-one knows what the world will be like then, but we will always need humanity in the world – especially if the predictions of battles over limited natural resources and land come to fruition. Though as teachers, I think we can do a lot wore than consider these words of Dr Seuss in our classrooms: