Tuesday, 23 September 2014

How do teachers talk to students about ISIS?

If he's still there, Mr. Bloom must be having a challenging time teaching world history and politics to his high school students.

How do you talk to students about ISIS or ISIL, whatever name that's being used these days, especially when you're teaching in a school that has already raised a homegrown terrorist -- a white kid, no less?

Mr. Bloom was the best teacher the kids had. Marissa hated high school, but she loved Mr. Bloom. Ditto Stef and Nick.

That's because Mr. Bloom was a straight shooter, a teacher who was unafraid to tell it like it was. He'd been an English as a second language teacher in Korea. He smoked pot. He drank gallons of hooch on his off hours.

That gave Mr. Bloom cred.

I had a teacher like that in high school, Ralph Eising, who wasn't afraid to teach students about the real world.  In Grade 12, Ralph gave us a book of essays to help us understand the curse of being aboriginal in this damned country.. While other teachers were still using lame texts like Breastplates and Buckskins, sleepy-time tomes written by sanitized academics that romanticized the battles between the whites and "Indians", Ralph was teaching us about our own role in promoting poverty, alcoholism and despair on reserves.

Ralph was fearless, inappropriate and wore his heart on his sleeve.

That's why we loved the damned guy.

He was too good for this world, Ralph Eising, and he left it too soon. Couldn't take the hurt and the pain, I guess.

His life had become a country song.

I think of him often, as I think of him today, as I'm trying to make sense of a world run amok with bad guys stinking up the place, making living here worse for everybody especially their own Muslim brothers and sisters. It's bad enough for us; how bad can it be for the millions of Muslims who just want to get along in this world, go to school, get good jobs, make a contribution, and if they are very lucky, earn a pension at the end of it all?

It starts with Mr. Eising, and it starts with Mr. Bloom.

It's a heavy responsibility being a teacher or a journalist or a politician now to get the script right without scaring the bejesus out of kids and their parents and old folks who just want to go to Loblaws to get groceries but who hear that constant earworm about how they could be beheaded getting lettuce, or blown up stepping on the bus.

Kids, kids are everything. White, black, brown, pink...kids are our future. We write on the blackboard in their brains everyday. So how would Mr. Bloom -- or Mr. Eising -- have taught students about ISIS, about the Muslim culture and influence in Canada, particularly considering the fact they are not just teaching to the choir. Muslim students are right there, in the classroom.

How does the teacher diplomatically discuss fears for the future when ISIS recommends that all Muslims kill us in our beds, in our shopping malls, at the RedBlacks game?

What does the modern day curriculum say about 9/11? About shoe bombers and self-immolators?
I bet there's nothing about them in Breastplates and Buckskins.

I'm thinking both those teachers would see this, not as a scary chore, but as an opportunity for dialogue. Maybe that's all you can do.

I don't know. I don't envy a world politics teacher today.

Not here, not anywhere.

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