messy + free-flowing= to know is not enough

Young Children, Colorado Massacre and Language-in-use

on July 29, 2012

Texts these days aren’t limited to the ‘textbook,’ let alone written material. The rapid broadening of the term “text” to now include the media, oral and graphic texts have left teachers k-12 and beyond breathless. A practicing teacher of young children for a number of years now, coupled with my individual pursuits of ways to connect research and practice have led me to believe that ‘critical literacy’ (“socially perceptive literacy” according to Gee, 2004) should be a ‘Must Do’ strand in our curriculum across the globe today. As a first grade teacher, I am used and very open to innocent ponderings from my children, some think-aloud type of comments that can totally viral and capture everyone’s attention and continue to hold that interest for considerable time. In recent times (past 10 years) children are very aware of their society in ways that they never were before.

One would argue that this is nothing new given the rapid change in our contexts due to the rise of popular culture and the advent of information technology. Hence, even if parents are under the misconception that their kids are unaware of the real world happenings—-WRONG!

What I hear and have heard show just the opposite. Children are just as cognizant about the real world as we are. This is why the recent ‘Colorado Massacre’ is troubling me beyond words. I am struggling with the thought that the utter simplicity of a movie-going experience has been robbed from us forever (at least for now). Further, the subject matter—BATMAN, every child’s superhero has been traumatized and tainted.

To add to the disturbance, the solution seems to be in not naming the person or to describe the person as unhappy. My question is that on September 5th, when my little ones trickle into their new classroom, someone might remember this horror and sound it out. I feel the word unhappy is too overextended in our society today, especially, in the world of primary children. Not all unhappy people go around shooting people in a movie theatre! Young children recycle words that are part of their schema and unhappy is one such word. A child has a right to be unhappy— just as adults do. One is unhappy for so many reasons, some tangible, others not—first day of school, leaving parents, leaving the summer behind, the idea of making new friends, meeting a new teacher and so on.

By using the term irresponsibly to describe actions like the ‘Colorado Shooting’ only goes to show how adults now need to step up and rethink this. Children already know…we are not helping them: first, by robbing and then layering words in every child’s repertoire with connotations that are false.

A child and adults too, have a right to be unhappy—–these moments could be brief, lengthy, just as we can be happy. So finding another language to justify such cowardly acts is the way to go. As educators and parents we must help develop a different language…. What that would be or what it would look like is up to us to envision. But borrowing words from children to fulfill our goals seem to me an equally cowardly act.


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