“Oh, you let them build a war model?” another adult is scanning our products from our Innovation Day. “I don’t think I would let them do that…” and so begins my train of thought. Did I do something wrong by allowing Jack to build a model of D-Day? Should I have steered him toward something kinder, more 4th gradeish, should learning about war be a one time occurrence?
I guess I hadn’t even thought about it. After all, I asked the kids to do something they were passionate about, something that would keep them focused an entire day, something that we had perhaps not covered. Jack loves the history of wars. He is good at it too. All year whenever we came close to a war in social studies, and there are many of them, he is the one that adds the facts that I would never remember, the facts that bring the other kids in, the facts that put the human face on war. His passion is contagious too and other kids have checked war books out from the library because of him. Should I have stopped them?
I realize that I teach 9 and 10 year olds who are not ready to know the true devastation and horror of war, and yet, the sheltering that occurs in America of our students, the rewriting of history so to say, is taking on epic proportions. You don’t need to look further than the recent rewrite of Huckleberry Finn for proof. Yet we have to realize that our history is not made up of unicorns and rainbows, or even peace and understanding. Our history is one of a cycle of violence, people who fight for change, and in that fight, there are battles. If we do not teach our students about the fight, then how will they ever appreciate the outcome? I don’t go into horrific details about the injuries or torture or anything of that sort, but we learn about it so that we can understand our world a little bit better.
It happens again; a child wonders whether he is allowed to add a sword fight in his fairy tale. Perplexed I ask him why he is even asking, after all, there are many battles or fights in fairy tales. He tells me that some teachers don’t allow it. Again, I wasn’t aware that this would be a problem. Of course, there are battles in stories, particularly in the stories written by my boys. And that’s it isn’t it? Is it because we as female teachers prefer stories about love, compassion, and friendship? Is it because we do not relate to the need for action, for fights, for valor and bravery? I have never had a female student write a battle story and yet I think some day I will. So I want to keep the option open. I want my students to feel that they can write whatever they please as long as it fits within the requirements we have determined. I want my students to know that this world is a messed up place that we are continually trying to enhance and we can only do that by learning from our previous mistakes. We have to stop the sanitization of our history, in essence, we have to bring back the violence, the grittiness, the not so perfect human side, that makes us all human.
So let’s stop the unnecessary fixing of our curriculum. We have to give time to the battles and wars so that all of our students can learn from them. We have to stop skipping the “bad” parts and only focusing on the good. We have to embrace the interests of our boys and cater to them as well. They are equal partners in learning and deserve their chance to express themselves creatively.