LETTER: How will children remember community’s response?

To the editor:

I was in my first year of teaching when the Sandy Hook shooting happened. A decade later, I’ve nearly lost count of all the times I have stood in front of a classroom in the wake of some terrible event; all the subsequent shootings, the Boston Marathon, Syria, Ukraine, the pandemic, the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the BLM movement, the MeToo movement, the Jan. 6 insurrection… the list goes on. A barrage of painful, often complicated situations that kids– not unlike adults– desperately want to make sense of. History happens. Tragedy happens. And when parents aren’t in the room to help their children navigate these issues, the teachers step in as best they can.

I will not pretend that this isn’t a precarious situation for us. We are only human. We have our own biases and we have to acknowledge that as educators, we are in a position of power. If we aren’t careful, students run the risk of simply replacing their own beliefs with those of their teachers without any critical consideration. That is why we tread carefully when these things come up in the classroom. That is why we always try to encourage critical thinking in our students. That is why long ago, I adopted the mantra multiple truths can exist at once.

To that end, here are some truths:

  1. There is nothing controversial about a teacher telling their students that innocent civilians — white, Black, brown, Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Israeli — do not deserve to suffer as they are suffering now.
  2. Over the last couple weeks, our kids have been bombarded with violent images and horrible stories, many of which are being molded into talking points to fit specific narratives. Our job is to protect students. So when those narratives become antisemitic, Islamophobic, racist or generally hateful, we have the responsibility to call it out.
  3. Despite those responsibilities, most of us are not talking with students about what is happening in Israel and Gaza. It’s not that we are unprepared to do so. Read the first paragraph. We have plenty of practice talking about difficult things. One of the main reasons we aren’t holding space for those discussions is because there is a certain reputation in this community. These days, it seems that everything the school does happens under a microscope. Statements of solidarity invite scrutiny. People in surrounding towns place bets on how quickly Marblehead parents will rally to oust their next school administrator (and in case you are curious, no, that is not an exaggeration). Parents post about what the schools are doing and openly bully one another on Marblehead Facebook pages. If a teacher has the audacity to say something that someone disagrees with, emails are sent to admin. Meetings are had. People are reprimanded.
  4. There is a reason I am submitting this letter anonymously.
  5. We aren’t here to indoctrinate your kids. But when things go wrong, we desperately want to be there for them as they bear witness to the times. Right now, with the existing culture in this town, that is not an option for many of us.
  6. We should be able to stand in solidarity with the innocent people of Israel, and offer love and support to our Jewish students. We can condemn Hamas.
  7. We should be able to recognize that the murder of innocent people in Gaza is an atrocity, and offer love and support to our Arab and Muslim students. We can condemn the Israeli government.
  8. We should be mindful of the continuing struggle for equality that continues in our own country. Regardless of anyone’s social media tirade about whether or not a banner should hang in a school cafeteria, there is absolutely no question as to what we must convey to our students of color; what happened in 2020 was not just a passing fad. Their lives really do matter. And as far as teachers are concerned, the lives of our students matter a whole lot more than any of your diatribes on social media.

I ask this community to recognize how complicated this is, and how simple it is. We need to be there for our kids. We need to set examples. We need to teach them the difference between fights and arguments. We need to offer grace not only to our teachers, but to one another as we navigate the nuances and learn more about what is unfolding all around us. We need to inform one another in good faith. We need to listen in good faith. And as we watch this mutual annihilation from across the sea in a country where most of us are lucky enough to exist in relative safety, I ask you to consider what your children will remember about the way this community responded to this moment in history.

A Marblehead educator

(Editors’ note: The Current has granted this letter writer’s request for anonymity based on a legitimate fear of professional consequences. We have verified the sender’s identity.)

Letter to the editor
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