Over the past weeks we have been bombarded with news of bombs in Delhi and Karachi. In the wake of any major event, schools play a crucial role in helping children come to terms with such news. Any responsible parent will instinctively shield their children from the horrors and talk to them about the events in a way that will not increase anxieties but at the same time address concerns, honestly and openly.
Last week, my six-year-old son came home with a homework assignment. He had been asked to cut out pictures of the Delhi bomb blasts and take them to school. “Are you sure?” I asked him repeatedly. He was quite clear. I couldn’t believe that a responsible teacher in a reasonably progressive school could encourage her children to seek out such images. And yet, when I entered his classroom, there they were, up on the wall. Newspaper cuttings of blood-stained pavements: people wandering dazed and injured. “We want them to be aware,” the teacher explained. “They should know what is going on in the world. If it comes up in their GK test, then they should know dates and places, isn’t it?”
I was — and still am — aghast. It’s one thing to talk to the children about the blasts. It’s another to stick photographs of injured people on the walls of a classroom. In the wake of 9/11, American educators thought hard about how to best address children’s concerns and fears; and about what kinds of activities were appropriate for each age. Books like Robert Gillio’s Lessons from Ground Zero give practical guidance on how to help children understand and cope. In India, on the contrary, a culture of fear fostered by the media and by politicians is being helped along by teachers. The tacit message is that the outside world is a place of limitless, random danger: step out at your peril.
Another parent talked about her children’s school, where she had been told that she could not come in and talk to the kids about adoption: why? Because the children are “too young”. Too young, it would seem, to learn about some children being loved and raised by adoptive parents. But not too young to learn about terrorism, violence, injury and death.
Teachers may feel that they should draw their kids’ attention to important events — and in one sense I agree. My son’s school is raising money for the Bihar flood victims; it is only by seeing photographs of people wading through chest-high water that the kids would get a sense of what a flood means. But cutting out pictures of blast victims achieves nothing but the worst of both worlds: it highlights the horror while simultaneously trivialising it.
Anita Roy is Commissioning Editor, Zubaan Books.