Sunday, September 20, 2020
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What we can teach about the Paris attacks

The events of Friday, November 13, in Paris, where more than 125 people were murdered in cold blood as they watched a concert, dined at a sidewalk café, or went about their daily lives in any number of ways, are beyond my ability to comprehend or explain.

Certainly, discussing the issue with children presents unique challenges, which doesn’t mean teachers in France and everywhere won’t have to try. France’s education minister tweeted her solidarity with and support for French teachers as they deal with the horror of the attacks:

Keep in mind, kids don’t live on Mars, and avoiding the issue, when they know something bad happened, can create more problems. Adults don’t need to keep kids smiling constantly; instead, adults need to help kids understand what’s going on around them. Even in tough times, adults should be honest and deal with the facts, in simple terms according to each child’s age of course, but for sure, talk about what’s really going on.

The French education ministry has produced a leaflet teachers can use. It’s in French, but a section above a cartoon asks, “Who are the killers?” It then answers itself by saying, “Since authorities haven’t yet fully completed their investigation, we still don’t know a lot about these killers. What we do know is that they are terrorists: people who use violence and terror to impose their ideas on others. They’re even ready to die for that.”


Cartoon from a leaflet sent to teachers in France showing a child saying, “Terrorism scares me.”
A teacher responds, “But freedom (liberty) scares terrorists even more!”
10-year-old Noé says she’d prefer not to see horrible images of the attacks.

Students in US schools are also undoubtedly aware of the events in France, and I’ll try to point you to some of the best summary resources I can find:

The Learning Network on the New York Times recommends addressing or researching five main questions that will help students understand the basics of what happened in Paris on November 13 and how schools, students, teachers, and American communities can come to terms with it:

  1. How did the French military respond on Sunday to the attacks on Paris? Why?
  2. What have authorities revealed so far about the identities of the people who helped carry out the attacks?
  3. Who is Khaled al-Homsi, and what message does he want to send to France about Raqqa?
  4. Where else has ISIS carried out attacks around the world? Where have suspected ISIS militants or supporters been arrested?
  5. How has France tried to send a clear message of its determination to curb the Islamic State and its ability to carry out attacks outside the territory it controls?

“I’d like to encourage them to think about how we can take care of each other,” the Huffington Post quoted Marie-Sandrine, a high school teacher in Paris, as saying, referring to her students.

We join our voices with those of the French education minister and other teachers there and in the US. It’s always good to listen to students, but in today’s world of rapid information, some of which is misleading and some of which may be trying to lure impressionable children away from home and into a life of terror, listening to students is essential.

We’re reminded that ISIS is not just in Syria and Iran. The so-called “Islamic State” is in England, France, Belgium, and even the US. They are no friends of any religion and they are no friends of any person of deep faith. They will destroy Islam with their own vanity, but we wonder how many people they’ll kill in the meantime. Intelligent Muslims have universally condemned the attacks.

“This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share,” President Barack Obama said after the attacks.

“This is a heartbreaking situation. And obviously those of us here in the United States know what it’s like. We’ve gone through these kinds of episodes ourselves. And whenever these kinds of attacks happened, we’ve always been able to count on the French people to stand with us.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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