I never allowed my son to have a toy gun. Not even a water gun. He had a water dolphin. My students are not allowed to pretend to shoot each other. They are not allowed to build weapons out of Legos. We don’t play killing. There is nothing joyful or fun about bullets.
We are not naive. We don’t pretend the world is always peaceful. We recognize the world’s ugliness and its beauty. We talk about and mourn violent acts together. And celebrate when peace and joy triumph.
And we build peace within our school walls. We learn to sign “I love you” in ASL and share love with the security guards and custodians and children all around the school. We show we care about each other by making sure every kid gets what they need: a quiet and calm room, a piece of gum, a special seat, some time to dance, a hug, a little space, some words of encouragement. We sing songs of struggle and love, freedom and friendship, redemption songs. We read about activists who work to make the world a fairer, more equitable place. We practice solving problems with our words.
In 20 years of teaching, I have taught hundreds of children. Through teaching we change the world. Our lessons may be magnified exponentially, so we must make sure we are modeling kindness, teaching children to be thoughtful and critical consumers of information, acknowledging the humanity in each of our students and insisting they recognize it in each other.
Yes, we teach children to read, but reading is not saying words. Reading is thinking and wondering and seeking evidence. We teach children to write, but writing is not mindlessly responding to insignificant prompts. Writing is sharing our important ideas, crafting and revising carefully, adding compelling examples, so their voices cannot be ignored. We must help children to become fluent mathematicians so they cannot be fooled by people who would twist numbers into lies, so they recognize the inequity around them and can produce evidence to show that it must change. We must not teach skills in isolation, but give children the tools to shape the world as they grow.