A Word On Courage

Published 4/5/14 by:

Boston Strong Marathon Photo



I teach a unit from the Common Core called “Courageous Characters”. For six weeks my eleven and twelve-year-old students explore the definitions of courage, and what it means to act courageously. We read short stories and novels that demonstrate how courage can be as simple as befriending someone with an atypical appearance (hat tip to RJ Palaccio’s inspiring novel Wonder), or as difficult as mourning a mother who abandoned you, as well as a friend’s older sibling killed in action (Holt’s When Zachary Beaver Came to Town). During the research portion of the unit students gather information about people like Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, or Ruby Bridges. They look for details about how people overcame oppression, racism, physical or mental disabilities, stereotypes, and other dilemmas humanity grapples with. This is the third year I’ve taught this unit, and the themes have become eerily tangible for my classes.


My current students were born in 2001 or 2002. Their lives began with 9/11. They know the stories, the acts of heroism, and the Patriotism that followed. Then came Newtown. Some students wanted to discuss every detail, and kept uttering, “how could this have happened?” Some kids were sheltered from the details, which may have been for the best. Then the Boston Marathon Bombing occurred, and their awareness of terrorism, threats, and chaos grew exponentially. The town I lived in went into lockdown when the Brothers Tsarnaev were on the loose. It was a terrifying week. My students were saddened by Newtown, but devastated by the Marathon Bombing. Immediately, I assumed that because the bombing happened in our city it affected kids much more aggressively. It didn’t occur to me until later, after many conversations, and reflective writing pieces, that my students were more upset because the majority of people who survived the explosion were missing limbs. No one was showing gruesome pictures of the deceased from Newtown on the news, but the dancer who now only had one leg? She was everywhere.


So as parents, neighbors, siblings, educators, and genuine citizens of the world, how do we have these difficult conversations with kids? How do you determine what they should know? What’s the proper way to respond? In my experiences, if kids want to talk about it, I find an appropriate time to do so, but it’s not like I have any answers. I don’t know why a Malaysian plane disappeared into the atmosphere. I can’t comprehend how terrorism functions, and why it’s appealing to so many people. What I do know is that kindness matters, and listening to kids has a huge impact. These conversations, and the fact that we, as adults, are willing to entertain them MATTER. So as we rapidly approach the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings, I’m going to leave some room in my lesson plan itinerary for those chats, for whoever wants to have them. I’m here to listen, and I encourage you to do the same.

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