Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

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This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

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I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

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11 thoughts on “Teaching and Terrorism”

  1. I agree entirely with all you say.
    I do think it should be emphasized that in a population of 66 million, it only took 8 young thugs, some of them from another country, to perform this evil. No educational or social system will ever be perfect, and even if it were we would have aberrations, as we have right here with our numerous home-grown massacres. I hear some wondering if they should let their children go abroad, and I wonder if those same children are any safer going to college in the US, given the campus shootings this year alone.
    What I most hate are the reaction of our politicians to all this. In line with your comments, I fantasize that anyone running for office should have had to spend a few years teaching ESL in a difficult school district. It is troubling to see the lack of idealism, common sense, and plain respect for others evidenced by our governors and candidates.
    It is claimed that democracy is the least bad political system. Times like this make me question that statement.

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  2. Wow. So the world is changed forever because of 8 out of 66 million. My calculator says that is 1.212121 -7. Such an impact caused by so few.

    One book can change the world. . . . Education and empathy are the answer!

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  3. Thanks for your thoughts – I have found it hard to put into words my thinking on this past weekend. But I do believe that education and empathy can change how we see the world. That said there are many educated people who are so ready to walk on the dark side. All I know is we need to keep seeking the light and positive in all.

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  4. This is so eloquently written. I never thought of teachers on the front line of this very complicated issue, but it is true. I love the connection between your words and Malala’s message.

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  5. I cannot imagine going to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and survive in a school. ELL teachers are incredible and their students have twice the workload of the native student. I applaud both of you! I often wonder what causes these young people to become blood thirsty militants who set out to destroy. I am so sad for the life they have chosen.

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  6. Thank you for sharing…this may very well be the “event” that defines a generation, as JFK’s assassination did for my parents, and 9-11 did for so many of us. How we teach will make an impact on how it is remembered.

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    1. You make an excellent point…that how we teach about this “event” will make all the difference in how it is perceived over time. It is an excellent time to teach the importance of compassion for others…for every one,

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