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Teaching after Terror - Las Vegas

created Oct 02, 2017 09:23 AM

by Nancy McTygue, Executive Director

I can’t believe I’m writing another one of these posts in response to a horrific terrorist attack.  In 2015, I wrote two – one in response to the massacre of Charlie Hebdo, one in response to the attack in Paris, and more recently, one in response to Charlottesville.  It’s too soon to understand the motivation of the killer, and we’re just getting some initial news about the victims – the latest reports on the news say more than 50 died, and if this is correct, more than 500 injured in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in American history, unbelievably stripping the record set in Orlando in 2016.

In the days and weeks to come, we’ll learn more about the man who killed and most importantly, the lives lost.  In the interim, I wanted to share once again some suggestions we’ve learned about how to talk about these attacks with your students – as I’m sure this has been at the top of your students’ minds this morning.  When we posted these after the Paris attacks, a number of teachers told me that it had helped.  With that in mind, here they are again:

  1. Let students talk.  The first thing we can do is let kids talk and answer any questions that they may have.  This will look different in different classrooms – less detail with the youngest children, more if you’re dealing with middle or high school students. (Check out TIME’s suggestions from the Child Mind Institute for guidance on hitting the right level for your students, posted after the Paris attacks.)
  2. Provide context.  Once we learn more about the shooter and his motivations, it’s important to provide some context, especially for older students, to help them understand that while the current event is horrific, it is not the first (nor the last) time that terrorism has stunned the world.  And that violence and hate can be overcome, often at a substantial cost, through the efforts of good men and women working together to make the world a better place.  Context also helps students understand that the current tragedy likely has connections to events in both the recent and distant history.  Making connections to understand the motivations of terrorists (domestic and international) is one of the most challenging and important tasks of our time.  If we are to ever truly confront this threat, we must understand their world view. 
  3. Do something positive. One thing that often helps is the opportunity to do something positive and productive so that students can feel like they can make a difference, as individual citizens.  Even very young students can raise money to support non-profits that are dedicated to helping those affected by tragedy, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Unicef, Save the Children, or Doctors without Borders. Students can also volunteer their time helping people in need in their communities through service learning projects that directly benefit those that are less fortunate, including migrants, organizing food and clothing drives, or collecting school supplies for children.  Helping someone less fortunate in California may not directly benefit the families who lost loved ones in Las Vegas, but it will demonstrate the power and importance of public service, and push back against those who seek to divide and destroy us though hate and violence.
  4. Show them you care.  Probably the most important thing we can do for children during times of crisis is to show our students that we care about them.  This might even be the easiest thing for us to do, as it was likely the reason we went into the profession in the first place.  Children can be resilient, but they need adults who show kindness, generosity, and respect for them.  The most important thing we can do for our students now – and in the future when the next crisis strikes – is to reassure them that we care about them, not just now when we’re all feeling vulnerable and they’re relatively well-behaved, but every day.  And part of our care for them is teaching them all how to care for each other – our absolute best weapon against hate.