Teaching Our Kids About Catastrophes Doesn't Have To Be A Disaster

7 years ago

It's easy to criticize education because it has so many facets: from testing and textbooks to the First Amendment and bullying, teacher pay and benefits to the length of the school year. And a whole lot in between.

But here's one issue I didn't see coming: teaching our kids about disasters, though I'm not talking about those fire, hurricane or tornado drills I remember from when I was a kid. I'm talking about how we are teaching our kids content related to past catastrophes and present engagements: wars such as Vietnam and Afghanistan, and natural disasters such as Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

How do we teach these events to our kids? How do we want teachers to teach them? What do we want to be taught to our kids about these often terrifying and usually, though not necessarily, fatal parts of our history?

I started thinking more deeply about how the schools might be educating our kids in this area of material after my eighth grade child told me that she was going to make a claymation video of the September 11, 2001 destruction of the Twin Towers. Immediately, I had a visceral reaction: the teacher was going to let the kids re-enact what some political pundits say is off-limits to people running for office because it's such an emotional ploy!? But the class assignment was to do a multimedia presentation related to the ninth anniversary of the attack. The kids explicitly were allowed to show the World Trade Towers One and Two being hit and coming down.

To say this freaked me out a bit is the understatement of this century (so far anyway). I still remember clearly how, as a high school student from 1977-1980, not one teacher taught us about Vietnam. And even in preparing this post, I've had a hard time locating materials on that subject. (One of the most complete lists of resources can be found at this UK site, while our own U.S. Department of Education site, which does have some excellent resources, is sorely lacking in Vietnam coverage.)

And yet, as parents, we're faced daily with disastrous and disaster news -- in the papers or on the Internet, which we know our kids may encounter. It might be news from down the street, as with the recent fires in San Francisco but also in Colorado, or from abroad, like the flooding in Pakistan Then, there are the domestic acts of violence -- the Virginia Tech shootings and Oklahoma bombing -- that seem to defy having positive teaching moments. And finally, there's the category of occasions we teach so that we can remember such as memorial days we observe as a nation and which often are rooted in America's past wars, such as December 7 for the attack on Pearl Harbor to V-E Day (Also sometimes called V Day) and V-J Day.

The Internet is a great tool for finding ideas on how some of these topics might be approached:

FEMA's Resources for Parents and Teachers is from the government.

An umbrella site that utilizes information from all the federal agencies, called Federal Resources for Educational Excellence includes an entire section on natural disasters that leads to a National Science Foundation site on the same topic and is part government part non-profit and academia.

And don't forget our financial crises -- we need to be teaching our kids about these as well, yes? For that, there are for-profit outfits like Money Savvy Generation that teach money management lessons to elementary school kids.

Ultimately, this area of educating our kids around disasters, whether manmade or not, is one that I believe needs to be monitored by parents but not to the point of smothering -- wherever that line may be.

What are some of the most effective and least effective ways you've noticed being deployed for educating our kids about past and present disaster history?

Additional Resources:

From Momcentral.com: Using Technology to Teach Children about 9/11

Teaching Children History by Visiting the Local Cemetary from Gina Barrett at Suite101

And from The Learning Network Blog at the New York Times, a litany of resources for educating kids about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Jill Writes Like She Talks
In The Arena: Jill Miller Zimon, Pepper Pike City Council Member

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