Children in my classroom, and so many elementary schools across the country, students are asking them will ask tough questions: “What happened in Orlando?” and “What is a hate crime?”
As educators, parents, and mentors, we are authorized first responders for children during such massive traumatizing events. We are responsible for equipping students with toolkits to love, not hate. As teachers, we are always working to be proactive about our future and reactive to the present.
Children are impressionable beings that absorb the world uniquely. We need to process with them the events in an age appropriate way, helping them process the terrible snippets they hear. They are often more rational than childish, which is why I don't understand why adults shelter them from harsh truths by avoiding the issue entirely. We can't continue to preserve them from important conversations. Instead we must solicit their advice, opinions, and suggestions. The voice of every child matters and should be respected, and there questions must be encouraged and answered in age appropriate ways.
I am saddened by those who will not talk to their children or students because the many of the victims of this shooting were gay. I know the only way to combat hate is with love, empathy, and support.
As a gay man, I pledge to listen and find ways to support this journey as a listen, facilitator, and through remembering those we have lost.. The day after the shooting, I wore a Mickey Mouse shirt outlined in stars and stripes, carried a gay pride flag in my pocket, and dangled a rainbow bracelet.
Children as early as three years old should be informed about what happened June 12, 2016. If We must to facilitate a discussion about the 103 victims of a hateful terrorist to encourage courageous questions. There are great resources and tips to help this conversation; educators don’t need to go this alone.
Unfortunately, some adults will perpetuate malice by marveling in the heinous act of Omar Mateen. They will use religion and personal beliefs to underline why they applaud this horror. Shockingly, children must understand that these kinds of people also exist and that these mindsets are influenced by misconceptions and fear.
When we are able to confront such darkness at a young age, we are much more capable to support children in their ability to be empathetic and sensitive to the differences of others. Supporting children as the deal with a scary world isn't mathematical. It just requires talking and listening.
Gary Hamilton is a 5th grade special education teacher at Wheatley Education Campus in Washington and has been teaching for nine years. Hamilton is an America Achieves Fellow, a teacher trainer for the Flamboyan Foundation, and a Teacher Selection Ambassador for the District of Columbia Public Schools.