The Apocalypse is now… and the kids know it.

It’s Monday, and the 2018 Climate Conference in Poland (COP24) is in full swing. Seems as good a day as any to talk about the Apocalypse. I’ve been hesitating on this writing, because I understand that a blog post about the world as we know it going down in flames is… a bummer of sorts. But I need to share some things with you.

I think we humans are trained to expect the Apocalypse to be beyond obvious. We are excellent at denial. Unless we can actually see a meteor hurtling towards us, or a tidal wave engulfing the Statue of Liberty, we will act like everything’s business as usual.

statue-of-liberty-tidal-wave-apocalypse
Image via yournewswire.com

But seriously, isn’t it getting harder and harder to dismiss how badly we’ve f*cked things up, as a species? It’s biblically disastrous out there. The world is a fury of burning and flooding at the same time. Humanitarian crises are so ubiquitous and interminable that they become background news. Conscious bigotry has never been stronger. In the US, there are now so many guns that kids are getting killed by stray bullets, inside their own homes. And with all of our knowledge and progress, there are still innumerable humans who think we can afford to throw garbage around – both literally and figuratively.

flooding US 2018
Flooding in southeast US, 2018. Image via climatesignals.org.
The Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore, California, August 9, 2018. Image by Robyn Beck via The Atlantic.

This post has been brewing for a long time, but especially since October when I started working with my Grade 5/6 class on our Remembrance Day assembly contribution.

This class is a relatively small, calm group of kids who live in a nice, safe, pretty neighbourhood. The average income around here is very healthy, as is the proportion of highly educated parents. It’s a tight-knit community, very supportive. I’m lucky to teach at my school, and this group of Grade 5/6s is frankly lovely.

The sad part is that, as a group, they are not optimistic. They don’t think the future is rosy. They live their lives and have fun and get silly and run around, but they don’t see their adulthood as an exciting realm of possibilities. They’re not even sure how much adulthood they’re going to get. One girl has already sworn off of having children, because she doesn’t want to inflict the world on them.

These are 10- and 11-year-olds. They are smart, they think a lot, and they can see that we’re in dire straits.

We began talking about Remembrance Day from the perspective of why we commemorate it. Most of these kids have not experienced war first-hand, but they understand that they wouldn’t want to. They are grateful for sacrifices others have made – that their families, for the most part, have not had to make. They can imagine the awful things people have gone through. They want to show respect.

But… what has all the suffering been for? Has it earned us the peaceful world that so many humans have imagined and wished for?

Is the world at peace? I ask my students. No, obviously not, they reply. They know that wars are still happening all over the world. They also know that peace is about more than a lack of wars, and that even our part of the world cannot be called peaceful. Not right now.

We started writing about it. Here’s a list of things they worry about, in their words. (I’ve alphabetized for your convenience.)

Why the World is Not At Peace:

  • abduction
  • abuse
  • animal abuse
  • anxiety
  • bad environments
  • bullying
  • cancer
  • child abuse
  • climate change
  • corruption
  • cyber bullying
  • depression
  • drugs
  • drunk driving
  • equity problems
  • expensive child care
  • food
  • gun laws
  • land
  • littering
  • low income rates
  • hackers
  • homelessness
  • homophobia
  • money
  • no food
  • no schooling
  • North Korea
  • not awareness
  • not proper rights
  • overpopulation
  • people being mentally unstable
  • people not believing you
  • police getting off easy
  • politics
  • poverty
  • racism
  • rape/hiding it
  • sexism
  • shootings
  • starvation
  • suicide
  • terrorists
  • trash/pollution
  • Trump
  • violence
  • war
  • young marriage

It’s no wonder that anxiety and depression form the latest children’s health crisis in the western world. (And this list doesn’t even mention water supply, the issue I think is most likely to screw us all for good.)

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I worried about a lot of stuff too. (Most of the same stuff, actually. Things haven’t changed as much as I hoped.) I knew the world was dangerous and not within my power to fix. Sometimes this knowledge loomed large over me, and I struggled. But I never felt hopeless. I never stopped planning for a good – better – future.

Folks. IT IS NOT OKAY WHEN KIDS LOSE HOPE. They are built to be hopeful creatures, and they deserve to be. And we need them to be.

I think a lot of the problem stems from kids’ knowledge, confirmed every day on every branch of social media, that adults are not only human but A) a lot of them are assholes and/or idiots and B) they don’t know how to fix things. The whole role model situation is a total snafu. If you can’t esteem the available leaders, then nothing and no one is safe.

Although I was shocked at the cynicism of the discussion we had, I did my best to lift things up a bit. Yes, it all seems overwhelming and insurmountable. We talked about the value of attitude, of small steps in the right direction, of cumulative effort. When everything seems doomed, it’s better to do something than nothing.

Here are some ideas they came up with to improve things:

  • be nice
  • check in on people
  • don’t litter
  • don’t vote for Nestlé
  • end war
  • fix the government
  • have a better attitude
  • have better laws
  • help people with no food
  • help places with no good water
  • kick out Trump from presidency
  • LGBTQ+ President
  • listen
  • make a treaty
  • meet in the middle and try to figure it out
  • more homes for the homeless
  • more school safety
  • more women’s sports on TV
  • no guns
  • proper jail sentencing
  • protest
  • raise awareness
  • raise incomes
  • ride a bike
  • stop bullying
  • stop polluting
  • vote for better candidates
  • we can share the money
  • woman president

I love how simply these things are put. Some of them truly are simple and feasible. And of course many of them are dauntingly complex and subject to infinite interpretation. Things like “fix the government” and “proper jail sentencing” could be debated until the end of the world.

Here’s one so meticulous it made me laugh:

  • show people what they’ve done over the years in a slideshow but adding every little detail in public

And another that didn’t make me laugh at all, because I know it was seriously written:

  • last resort leaving Earth and live on the Moon

As though we’d be any better behaved on the moon. Sigh.

Right now, Sir David Attenborough is doing his best to tell changemakers that THIS IS SERIOUS AND REAL, ALREADY. As did Mark Ruffalo and Cher and co. in the Liberatum film “In This Climate” and Leo DiCaprio in his film “Before the Flood.”

These UN climate change conferences have been going on since 1995 (hence “COP24” – 24 years of talking about this problem and watching it get worse). In October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told us the outlook was considerably worse than previously thought… And we talked about that for a few days – and moved on.

It feels like forever that people have been saying We need to do something, we need to fix this as other people deny the whole thing… And here’s us, as a species, still squabbling about stupid stuff, as though selfishness and hatred were sustainable options.

This is not fair to the kids. Sean and I know that our children are taking in practically everything we say (when we’re having our own conversations – not when we’re asking them to do things) – and it’s a huge burden on them just knowing things about the state of the world. They fret and worry, and we try to say less when they can hear us. It’s not that we want them to be oblivious, but at six and nine, they need time to build up the good anticipation that will help them to persevere as the shit continues to hit the fan.

On the bright side, things we do to change the world for the better are often overlapping and symbiotic. They can improve many layers of a situation. As Rebecca Solnit pointed out ofter the IPCC’s announcement, climate action is human rights. There is still a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario for our species on this planet, and we owe it to everybody to shoot for the latter.

I promise that my next post will be less depressing.

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A Little Faith in Humanity from Remembrance Day

Hi, lovely di-hards.

It’s been an emotional week, n’est-ce pas? Right around this time last Tuesday, there was a disbelieving dread building on my Facebook news feed. I could hardly bear to look at the actual stats. My daughter had strep throat; we all slept badly, and felt ill the next day – on so many levels. It was an Armageddon-y gloom.

And though that has not really gone away, there have been things to remind me that humanity is still kinda cool.

peace-dove-and-sign-png

I ran the Remembrance Day assembly last Friday, and as such spent several hours of the preceding Thursday creating an iMovie of my Grade 4 FI class’s collaboratively-written peace poem. Listening to their little-kid voices reading, line by line, words like “It’s friends and family and coming together for love/By calm, planting, and happiness” and “Humans are meant to be free and to walk… give love, help others,” and then all their voices together saying, “And stop war.”… It helped. It was comforting in a deep way.

I think we teachers are in the privileged position of seeing the best and the worst that kids have to offer. We are both jaded and optimistic – sometimes both these things, several times a day.

There had been some worry about behaviour during this assembly, since there were issues with noise level during the last assembly; the kids who were presenting had their feelings hurt by the not-so-focus of their schoolmates. And I have to say, it’s a thing. Many of us teachers are frustrated, constantly having to remind students that you don’t just yap all the time when it’s not your turn.

So for Remembrance Day, when there are usually quite a few community members present, there had been a lot of preparatory discussion in classrooms. The principal issued a reminder before classes came to the gym.

And then the kids blew our minds. They. Were. So. Quiet. Coming in, listening to each presentation, waiting in between… Even the wee kindergarteners. The minute of silence after the Last Post was incredible. A whole sea of kids making almost no sound. (I saw one child trying to distract his classmates with silent silliness, and they just ignored him. I was amazed.)

The last part of the assembly was the playing of “One Day” by Matisyahu. It’s a sad-but-happy song, and most of the kids know and love it, having learned it in Music class last year. When the song began, they were still incredibly quiet, unsure if they should sing, but gradually we could hear their voices joining in and getting stronger – and only with respect. It was this perfect rising tide of youthful hope. I know most of us adults got tears in our eyes at the sound. I couldn’t even look out at the kids, they were so beautiful at that moment.

If you want, try listening yourself, and imagine hundreds of sweet childish voices singing “When negativity surrounds, I know someday it’ll all turn around.”

Makes you think it really will.

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P.S. I’ve decided I’m going to try NaBloPoMo again, but changing the dates. There was no way the first two weeks of November were going to work, so I’m starting today and will be attempting to post every day through December 15th. See you tomorrow!

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 11: Thought, Empathy, Peace

IMG_2818
This is what I’m wearing this year. Just to be clear.

Today I’ve been grateful for the teachers who put together our school’s Remembrance Day assembly. They made the effort to be thoughtful, to include the past and the present, to respect without glorifying, and to make peace the focus.

I’m grateful for the students who obviously have pondered the discussions that happen on Remembrance Day, who have already started to be critical thinkers and develop their wisdom.

I’m grateful for the Grade 6 boy who was tearful at the end of the assembly today (as many of us were), not only for being open about emotion but also for giving his classmates the chance to be compassionate.

I’m grateful for the feeling of community that always brings us in close on November 11th.

I’m very grateful for moments of silence, and that silence is our answer for how to show reverence – and that even the little kids, in a brimming gymnasium, seem to feel it.

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Killing the White Poppy

As always, humans are up in arms about stuff right now. The thing I’ve been reading about today is the white poppy.

Image from torontosun.com
Image from torontosun.com

Traditionally, the red poppy is worn to remember and honour war veterans, both living and dead. In the past, I’ve worn a red poppy to indicate that I am thinking prayerfully of soldiers, like my grandpa, who did what they felt they had to do, and experienced things no human should have to experience, in the pursuit of an end to conflict.

Every year on Remembrance Day, I also think about the others who have made (and continue to make) sacrifices in times of war. All those who die or are broken or see their lives torn apart. They are innumerable.

That is what I understand the white poppy to be about: the recognition that peace is the goal. That war equals tragedy. Lest we forget.

In the past few years, I’ve been aware of another belief: that by honouring those other people, the civilians, or by expressing the wish to make peace a priority, I am disrespecting the soldiers and veterans.

I am not wearing a white poppy… because I do not want my message to be mistaken.

The “I Remember for Peace” campaign at Ceasefire.ca has elicited many heartfelt messages from people who wish to respect soldiers and veterans and also honour their pursuit of peace. Inevitably, there are people who feel it’s appropriate to add messages like these:

“White poppies are bull shit and everyone involved in this should be shot.”

“wear a white poppy? expect a white loogy in return for spitting in the face of every soldier who sacrificed their blood on the battle fields so you can have the rights and freedoms you enjoy today. I will gladly spit in the face of anyone I see wearing a white poppy and I will be encouraging others to do the same.”

Incredibly, these people believe that they are showing respect. I am not wearing a red poppy this year because I know these people are wearing them. Again, I do not want my message to be mistaken.

Every year since I’ve been blogging, I have posted on Remembrance Day (and Veterans Day). This year, I am giving the floor to veterans. Even so, I know there will be people who read this and want to spew ugliness over it. I’ve decided that tomorrow, I am just going to be silent, and show my respect that way.

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The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

– Douglas MacArthur

Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still there are things worth fighting for.

– Norman Schwarzkopf

I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.

– William Tecumseh Sherman

An honorable Peace is and always was my first wish! I can take no delight in the effusion of human Blood; but, if this War should continue, I wish to have the most active part in it.

– John Paul Jones

No one hates war like a soldier hates war.

– Tommy Franks

War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

We know how to win wars. We must learn now to win peace…
– Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers

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11 a.m., 11/11/11

I took a gamble and brought my kindergarten class to the Remembrance Day assembly today, just after 11 a.m. We had talked about it beforehand, especially the minute of silence, and I think they were excited to take the challenge. I told them I’d spoken to the principal about it, and we both believed they could handle it.

And they did. It was a long assembly, longer than advertised, but they did better than many of the older students. Even with the pep talk, I’d had my doubts… but they sat, watched, listened, stood when they were supposed to. I was amazed and so proud of them.

Remembrance Day is always a torn day for me. I am moved by the ceremonies, the songs, the children’s art, the silence. It has always made me emotional to think of the different ways people suffered, and still suffer, because of war. I am absolutely on board with remembrance as a device to promote peace. But as I’ve written before, I have major problems with indiscriminate support and awe of the armed forces, uncritical nationalism, vague and glorified talk about freedom, and what my husband (who was in the Canadian Armed Forces for several years) would call the “fetishization of the military”.

The Grade 6s this year made doves to be displayed in the gym for the assembly, along with lots of other remembrance-related art from different classes. Each dove was adorned with an original haiku by the student.

As a group, they are pretty astounding. They are full of vivid images that suggest that these students really pondered what it would have been like to participate in a World War.

I am including a few, without names, because, well… wow.

The sound of the dove
is absorbed by shouts and cries
Gunshots rattle towns

All alone, waiting
hear the silent leaves drifting
Miles away from home

not one will be fine
as soldier die mothers cry
the stars will not shine

Hear the bullets fly
Explosion in front of you
Thought that you would die

You’re in Germany
You see the surrender flag
cheer with your comrades

I am especially bowled over by that one line, written by a boy on the autism spectrum: “not one will be fine”. Such true words in five syllables. And no question about it, the mothers cry.

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Wishing to Remember You

This is my grandpa.

CRS ca. WWII (101st airborne)
My grandpa Shep.

His picture was one of dozens included in a slide show as part of the Remembrance Day assembly at school today – all relatives of people in our school community.

My grandpa was part of the 101st Airborne division for the American Allies during World War II, and parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He also did art and learned exotic languages for fun and read a lot and collected interesting items. By all accounts, he was an extraordinary person.

He survived the war, but died when I was two. I wish he had had more years to spend with his wife and children – and grandchildren. I wish I could talk to him, or at least remember him. I’m glad some of you do.

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