A mom asked me last week — “When I drop my child off for JK next year, will you be able to hug her?”
“I can’t imagine NOT hugging her,” I said. And it’s true. I can’t. But the truth is, we don’t know yet. It’s not clear yet what school will look like if, and when, we are distancing ourselves physically from each other. Listening is powerful, but sometimes it’s not enough. Hugs can reassure where words fail. How do we manage emotions remotely?
That question is being tested right now as we engage in our remote learning program. Not only are we trying to deal with the anxiety and sadness that come from physical isolation; last week, the world watched as George Floyd was brutally murdered as a police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck. This is not the first black man to be killed during an arrest; and although this event occurred in the United States, there are similar incidences of injustice that have been perpetrated in Canada. As Will Smith has noted, “Racism is not getting worse, it is getting filmed.”
At The Mabin School, we do not shy away from controversial topics. As in all difficult conversations, we follow the lead of our students and approach serious issues in age appropriate ways. For the last few years, our Grade 5s have carefully educated the rest of the school about Orange Shirt Day and the tragedy of Residential Schools. Grade 6s engage with a local shelter each year and learn about homelessness, creating a community space, under the direction of architects, to combat some of the root issues that cause people to live on the streets. Even our Kindies broach subjects like accessibility and environmental stewardship. Inevitably, we find that our students have a deep wisdom and empathy for others that necessitates action. They see themselves as agents of change who can make a difference in the world. That sense of agency provides them with hope and optimism.
When we are apart like this, it feels harder to talk about serious topics. On the one hand, we do not want to ignore what is happening around us. Education is about engaging in the world — our world — right now. At the same time, when students and teachers become overwhelmed with emotion about tragic events, how can we adequately support each other when we are so far apart?
Still, we try. At our morning staff meeting on Monday, we discussed the possibility that George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent riots might come up in class meetings. As a staff, we talked about how best to respond, shared resources, and committed to taking a vocal stand against anti-black racism and injustice. Teachers of our older students made space for those conversations in class. And I promised I would write about the issue here.
We encourage parents to take up these conversations at home as well. There are many beautiful books and resources that can be a starting point for these conversations. Some can be found here and others here. As a team of educators, our advice is to:
- Acknowledge feelings
- Clarify information (following the children’s questions)
- Provide a space to explore possible actions (for example, what can we do to raise our voices against racism in general, and anti-black racism specifically?)
We don’t always know exactly what to say. We don’t always know exactly what to do. But to say nothing or to do nothing is to be complicit. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As a Changemaker School, we are committed to making change — for good. Our students’ impulse to do the same gives us hope for a better future.
As one parent wrote to us on Monday: “Thank you… for being proactive in talking about racial justice. It’s part of what we love about Mabin!”
We thank all of our parents for joining us on this journey of positive change in the world. We want to make sure that schooling matters even — and perhaps most importantly — when it’s harder than usual.