ARTICLE

From Mourning to Action

After this weekend’s shootings in El Paso and Dayton, we ask: How do educators keep tragedy and terror from overwhelming them as they fight for justice?

Because young people spend so much of each day with educators, these adults are some of the first that youth turn to when they’re facing trauma or fear. In the wake of tragedies like this weekend’s attacks in Texas and Ohio, it’s easy to feel so overwhelmed by grief or sadness that it’s hard to see how to support students. 

Here are three steps you can take today.

 

Make a plan for supporting students in class.

It’s hard to know the specific ways that each of your students need support at the very beginning of the year, before you’ve had time to connect with them or establish a strong classroom culture. But we know it will be a critical task for all educators this fall. 

No matter how close to home, public violence can disrupt young people’s sense of safety and security. For students who are members of targeted communities or those who are survivors of violence or other trauma, this weekend’s attacks and the continuous news coverage and discussion that follow can be retraumatizing. 

Whether you’re in the early days of your school year or you’re still waiting to meet your new students, we hope you’ll consider how you’ll make space to support students in your classroom or school as they grapple with these attacks and their effects. 

Checking in with families to see how your new students are coping with this news is one place to start. Setting aside space in class for “Psychological First Aid”—for listening to students, modeling calm and teaching about reactions to stress—is crucial. The Teaching Tolerance articles “When Bad Things Happen” and “Showing Up Strong for Yourself and Your Students in the Aftermath of Violence” are resources that can help you develop a plan for addressing these attacks in your classroom.

 

Check your curriculum to see what and how you’re teaching about hate.

As we mourn for members of the Dayton and El Paso communities, it’s understandable to think of them, together, as a day and night of senseless violence. But it doesn’t diminish the heartbreak of either tragedy to recognize the differences between the two. We have a responsibility to call the attack in El Paso what it is: an act of hate—and specifically an act of white supremacist terrorism.

As such, the attack is part of a long legacy of racial terror in the United States. While a direct engagement with this history—including colonialism, slavery and racial terror in the Jim Crow South—will vary based on subject and grade level, one resource we strongly recommend all educators review is the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate. 

The Pyramid of Hate by the Anti-Defamation League

 

The Pyramid of Hate

The pyramid shows biased behaviors, growing in complexity from the bottom to the top. Although the behaviors at each level negatively impact individuals and groups, as one moves up the pyramid, the behaviors have more life-threatening consequences. Like a pyramid, the upper levels are supported by the lower levels. If people or institutions treat behaviors on the lower levels as being acceptable or “normal,” it results in the behaviors at the next level becoming more accepted. In response to the questions of the world community about where the hate of genocide comes from, the Pyramid of Hate demonstrates that the hate of genocide is built upon the acceptance of behaviors described in the lower levels of the pyramid. (source: adl.org)

Even the youngest students can learn to identify stereotypes, speak up against unfairness and recognize and avoid microaggressions. It’s important to also reflect on the ways in which you foster empathy and underscore the humanity of all people around the world. Whose stories are represented in your school and classroom library or curriculum? Which students and families do you allow to be their full selves? What messages are you sharing about the lived experiences of immigrants? It’s not enough to repeat or call out the rhetoric of hate and denounce it. We must provide students with its counter-narrative: a fearless and open-minded attempt to understand the experiences of all people. For a student exposed to the toxicity of dehumanizing language, your classroom can be an antidote.

If you’re a classroom teacher, when you review your curriculum, where do you find lessons about the forms hate can take and the ways your students can stand against it? Where might you add such lessons to your plans?

 

Review your classroom, school and district policies for addressing hate.

It was only a few years ago that the young man arrested for wounding and murdering scores of people in an act of white nationalist violence in El Paso was sitting in a classroom and walking his high school’s hallways. While it’s possible that the hateful ideas and rhetoric about immigrants attributed to him were developed after he left school, it’s equally possible that he developed or even shared those ideas while still a student.  

How do you respond when a student says something hateful in your classroom? Do you speak up every time? What about when hateful rhetoric makes news? Do you address it? Now is the time to commit yourself to doing so.

It’s also a time to check your school and district policies. At TT, we track reports of hate and bias in U.S. schools, and even after more than a year of doing so, we’re still unused to both the volume and the severity of the incidents we see. But there are steps that schools and districts can take today to prevent hate from infecting the culture of their school communities. Responding to Hate and Bias offers recommendations for addressing incidents of hate if they do happen—and for preventing them from happening in the first place. 

There’s some famous advice from Mister Rogers that often surfaces in times like these: “Look for the helpers.” It’s good advice that we hope you’ll share with your young students. 

And we know you’re among the helpers.

But as this week unfolds, the funerals will begin. And as we focus on the work of the helpers, we refuse to lose sight of those we’ve lost. When we fight for a better future for our students and ourselves, we carry their memories with us.