Personal Teaching and Learning

“What happened to us, happened to all of us.”

April 30, 2019

What happened to us, happened to all of us.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Chabad of Poway, speaking at a rally Sunday after the shooting the day prior. (news source)

There was [another] shooting Saturday. This time at a Chabad in Poway, about 15 miles from my house. Like other recent shootings, it originated in hatred. Hatred for people different than the shooter. Hatred for humanity. And like other shootings, it rocked the community and left people asking, “Why?” and “When will it stop?”

For my educator friends, additional questions centered around the role of education: What do we do? Why is this still happening? How do we stop this?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Humans have been killing each other over their differences since the dawn of time. However, I do believe our education system can help our youth make choices based on love and kindness instead of hate and darkness.

Bring Back Play

When I went to kindergarten, play was an essential component of learning. It did more than just give the teacher a break from teaching. It did more than just let us explore our imagination. It taught us how to be kind; how to handle conflict; how to interact with people who aren’t like us; and how to problem solve. Robert Fulghum, in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, eloquently sums up the important learnings of kindergarten, such as to share, play fair, don’t hit people, and don’t take things that aren’t yours. With the shift to standards and high stakes testing, these important life skills are being replaced by math drills and leveled readers. There needs to be a balance restored. Unstructured play is critical. Bring it back. And not just for kindergartners. We all need to learn to play nice!

History Matters

Most of us have heard some variation of the saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” When George Santayana wrote this in 1905, he was expanding on his notion that progress comes from retentiveness. In other words, our ability to reflect on the past and learn from it is what allows us to progress as a species.

Reflecting on the past is not about memorizing important dates and being able to fill in a map with countries and capitals. Students need opportunities to see history through the eyes of those who lived it. History may be written by the victors, but with the Internet, it’s not hard to find varying perspectives of an event. Exposure to different perspectives, different experiences, different impacts helps students see our interconnectedness.

History is not just in events. It’s also in words. And words are power. Vocabulary lessons can be more than just copying the definition and using it in a sentence. Expose students to the historical context of the word. For example, saying “That park is ghetto” may be meant as a derogatory reflection of trash and dead grass, but its dark past as a way to restrict free movement of Jewish populations brings with it a context filled with hate. Teach students to be cognizant of these words, and their ability to inflict hurt on others. And then help them stop using them.

Current Events Matter, Too!

After the Poway shooting, I asked my colleagues how it was addressed in their schools and district. Not shockingly, most didn’t address it at all. Why? I’m wondering what it does to children when events like this are ignored or swept under rug… not only does it make our Jewish students (in this instance) feel marginalized, but it also numbs youth to violence. It becomes just another line on social media feeds.

Media literacy is about helping students become “competent, critical and literate in all media forms so that they control the interpretation of what they see or hear rather than letting the interpretation control them.” How are they building this skill set if we keep a protective bubble around them all the time? In fact, the Poway synagogue shooter acknowledged that his ideas came from writings he found online. Danah Boyd, in her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, writes, ““In a world where information is easily available, strong personal networks and access to helpful people often matter more than access to the information itself.” Be a place of ‘helpful people.’

Final Thoughts

Rabbi Goldstein shared that, “What happened to us, happened to all of us.” Therefore, if we are to make a difference in the world, if we are to make our world a kinder, more accepting place, then all of us need to be brave enough to start making changes that matter.

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