When I was 9 I was scared of Freddy Kruger. I had never seen any of the movies, but I had seen the VHS cover and we all talked about it in school. It gave me nightmares. Tonight my 9 year old son told me he had had a nightmare, about terrorists. I am no expert in terrorism, and only have a teacher's understanding of child psychology. I like to think I have a good understanding of pedagogy and technology, but I am faced with an educational problem I am struggling to deal with. How do we educate scared nine year olds about the complexities of terror?
The terrible events in Paris yesterday have affected our family even 10,000 miles away in Melbourne. My wife is French and told me that she was brought up watching Le Club Dorothée where Cabu, one of the murdered cartoonists, would regularly do sketches. A little piece of her childhood killed by terror. The reactions, thankfully, have been much more aboout solidarity than blame, an outpouring of grief rather than a generalising pointing of fingers at Islam. This is undoubtedly the best reaction possible, but I do worry that the underlying politics of the Front National and the potential backlash of those who conflate the issues of immigration, poverty and religion are still simmering under the surface, ready to ignite. The only way to ensure this does not happen is to educate adults and children that terrorism is an expression of religious extremism and not an expression of faith. No religion condones terror, only people condone terror in the name of religion.
The easy way to explain these events to children is to classify terrorists in the same category as Freddy Kruger; scary, bad men. Don't be scared, they are not a real part of your life. But when we have 24/7 news with mobile footage of a terrorist shooting a police officer cowering on the floor at point blank, the reality of terror becomes a part of our lives. My son was confused and scared by the clash of his deep understanding that the events were wrong and evil and his inability to grasp why anyone would do this. How do we educate children to the horror of extremisim, the beauty of solidarity and the complexity of the world without destroying their innocence. Unfortunately, at this point, I am not sure. What I do know is that education and reason are the only ways to fight against extremisim because, as the hashtag says, je suis Charlie, but above and beyond that, nous sommes tous Charlie.