School Snippets: Foreign Unrest with 9- and 10-year-olds

Last week in my Grade 4/5 Core French class, we opted out of French for one period, because the students wanted to talk about Libya.

It reminded me of music class in high school: once in a while, our music teacher would tell us to put away our instruments and we would sit and talk about current affairs for 75 minutes. We loved it and learned a lot – she had a way of taking our comments very seriously and making us feel like real political persons.

I took the class in that same spirit, though with considerably more salt. We pulled down the map. We looked at Libya and Egypt and discussed Gadhafi and Mubarak and freedom fighters (more or less). Most of them were quite interested and engaged, but I’m pretty sure the person who got the most out of this was ME. It was fascinating to get their take on the matter.

Some notes:

  • The kids have wildly differing levels of knowledge. Some of them have clearly talked about this with their parents… and some are like, “Libya? I think it’s near Florida…”
  • Girls did not participate in the discussion nearly as much as boys did, but when they did, their questions tended to be circumspect, like: “Isn’t it true that Gadhafi didn’t actually get voted in?” (they have studied elections a lot this year) and “Can the people escape? Could they go to another country?”
  • Boys waved their hands furiously to get a chance to say something. Usually it was a violent plan for fixing Libya, featuring weapons: “Okay, they should just go to his house with AK47s [or C4 or grenades or bombs or whatever] and tie up his security guards and then shoot him and burn his house down…” That kind of thing.
  • We talked (repeatedly) about why this was not a good idea. By the end of the period, most of them got it – someone would pipe up with a plan of explosive destruction and the rest of the class was all, “But you CAN’T just go around KILLING PEOPLE! You can’t just let innocent people DIE!”
  • Someone mentioned a nuclear bomb at one point, but the rest of them rejected this. They studied Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes earlier in the year with their classroom teacher, and it obviously made a big impression on them. They remember about nuclear bombs and what they can do.
  • Also, when I corrected the student on his pronunciation of the word like “nucular”, one of the other students suddenly rose high in my esteem by saying, “Thank you, Madame! Finally, somebody who pronounces it nuclear!” Happy sigh.
  • I will admit that I had to fight back a giggle when one of the students called it “Adam’s bomb”.
  • In general, it’s difficult for a group of happy, well-fed, Canadian school children to understand what makes a populace want to overthrow its government… but we tried. Without resorting to gory mental images, I explained that in some countries, people aren’t allowed to live the way they want. These kids can’t fathom police randomly shooting real bullets into a crowd of thousands – heck, I can barely fathom it myself. But we did make some steps. Many kids’ natural reaction, especially to serious topics, is to make jokes, but by the end, they were reminding each other: “It’s not funny.”
  • Some of the kids were so stoked about the discussion, they wanted to continue. Next French class, they were like, “Can you show us where’s Libya again, Madame?” But, much as I’d like to believe I’ve started a political fire in their little hearts… I’m pretty sure it had more to do with getting to speak English for another period.

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