By Dr. Charles J. Pearson
“Will a bee suit protect against radiation poisoning?” “How does a nuclear bomb actually work?” “What happens if we all die?”
These were the questions on the minds of seventh and eighth grade students after their third day of school this year. The third day of school – amid teaching routines, having activities to get to know students, working to begin adult-child relationships that are critical to the learning process, helping students new to a building to find their way, remembering locker combinations, solving clothing and uniform questions… These were questions on their minds.
Our children posed these questions after weeks of rhetoric between the leader of North Korea and our own leadership with both threatening mutual annihilation. Their concerns came after the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where young people witnessed adults fighting in the street in a prolonged broadcast, full of racial slurs and overt hate from those who would take the country back to the era of “Jim Crow.” They wanted answers after watching adults — who touted degrees and other impressive titles — begin a dialogue on television about Charlottesville, which quickly digressed to yelling and screaming at each other, talking over each other as they argued their viewpoints. These questions came as children saw those who oppose hatred and bigotry face down those who advocate for racial superiority and the destruction of other human beings.
Our children are seeking to make sense of a world that makes no sense. Without making a list, I confess that their questions made me remember all of the questions I had when John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were killed. I remembered the fear I felt when the four girls were killed in the Birmingham church bombing. I remembered practicing drills where I ducked and tucked under a desk preparing for a possible nuclear attack.
I also remembered my teachers and other caring adults who helped comfort me through these traumatic events.
As Superintendent of Schools in the Normandy Schools Collaborative, those children’s questions put a lump in my throat. Children should not have to wonder about such things, but they do. So, I am writing to reaffirm our commitment to our children amid these times.
We are committed to creating a school system where all children have access to a quality education. And we are doing that, while the world they live in becomes more and more contentious each and every day. Yes, we recognize the impact of the environment on the lives of children. We remain committed, however, to creating safe spaces for children to interact with caring adults — adults who are knowledgeable about their role in the district; adults who hold each other accountable to serving our students.
As adults — teachers, support staff, administrators, service providers, parents and families — we must determine what our role is to equip our students for this world. We are identifying resources to support teachers in helping students during these days. We will also share information for parents to help them discuss these current events with children at home.
Please take time in the next few days to think about your personal response to current events. How we respond, what we say, how we openly reflect will matter to a child. After all, we are in this together.
Dr. Charles J. Pearson is currently the Superintendent of the Normandy Schools Collaborative. He has been committed to serving in the public education arena for over 35 years. Pearson received his doctorate in Educational Leadership from St. Louis University in 2007. He is married to Betty and they have three adult children and live in Normandy.