Recently, we recognized the 1-year anniversary of March 11th (which also led me to rename my blog), and around that time, many documentaries came out about the Japan disaster. I watched the BBC documentary, “Children of the Tsunami” and thought immediately how I should show it to the my grade 5 students at school. After all, about 1/3 of them hadn’t been at our school last year, so they should see what it’s like. Also, we were making cranes to possibly give to some schools up in Tohoku, so it would be good to give them an understanding about what life is like up in Tohoku.
I thought if I wrote to my grade 5 parents, and no one complained, everything would be fine.
Then, I had a conversation with the principal, and I re-thought the entire thing and came to a better understanding. Her 2 main questions, which really got me thinking were: What do you hope the students to get from this, and what will you do with their collective reaction?
Great questions, and they made me think about showing the documentary. The BBC documentary was a sad piece. Ok, nothing wrong with students seeing something sad. But, for many of them, they are still experiencing fear. Fear that comes with each small tremor. Some of them have relatives up north who were affected by the earthquake. The images of the destruction in the documentary are graphic, and the story is told by kids. Kids do well relating to kids.
What would I do with my students’ collective grief? What was I hoping that they would learn from the documentary? I was thinking they would get what I took from it–me, a 44-year old adult. It made me cry, but also made me feel compassion for everyone up there. It didn’t scare me, but made me realize how lucky we were in Yokohama. It made me sympathize with the children who had to grow up early–losing friends and family.
But kids are at a different developmental level than adults. They think differently, and it’s important to keep putting ourselves in their place. What do we want kids to get from the things they experience? How will they react?
I decided not to show the documentary to my entire class. I did show the BBC documentary in two parts to my 9-year old daughter, and she was moved by it. She started drawing pictures and a wrote a story based on it. Some of her first questions, though, were if we were safe where we lived. What if a tsunami came to us? What if there’s an even more powerful earthquake? I remember a similar reaction from our friend’s daughter when we walked through the A-bomb museum and toured the sights in Hiroshima. What if a bomb dropped on us? My friend wanted to get mad at her daughter for being so selfish, but we both realized that’s where kids are in their processing–that’s their age. It’s not abnormal.
And recently, this led to my vehemence that my daughter should not watch the documentary or whatever it was about Kony. Her 4th grade teachers were talking about how it would be great for the kids to see it since they were studying media and then human rights. Perfect tie-in, right?
After my reflections and my conversation with our principal about the March 11th documentary, I had a different reaction. No. The 4th graders are not going to understand what we understand and be able to dig deeper into how this relates to media and human rights. They’re going to see children being kidnapped and they’re going to be scared. I wrote to the teacher and expressed my opinion.
Right before spring break, my daughter came home and told me she saw a documentary about a really bad guy named Kony and that many people in the class were scared they would be kidnapped on the way home from school.