I develop and run technology education programs for Israeli schools. As part of that work, I’m piloting a new curriculum for third graders to learn technology fundamentals including how to use computer applications effectively. In yesterday’s lesson, I worked with a group of students and reviewed how to create Microsoft Word documents and edit text. “So, if we were writing a story what would it need?” “Well, a headline, of course!” they chimed in. So off we went. Text alignment. Font size. Colors. And so many questions like “How do you spell lion?” or “Why can’t I type an exclamation point? The computer keeps typing the number ‘1’.” (Meet the “shift” key!) And so on.
Once my kids were ready, I told them to start writing “whatever you want” and off they went. Stories about castles. About haunted forests with witches. They wrote about pets, about vacations…about their favorite food. They wrote about the most normal and charming things that are part of any kids’ lives.
They also wrote about war. And death.
Tamara shared aloud her idea for a story about soldiers who were doing combat drills. In the story, soldiers put life size pictures of people inside a house so they could have something to shoot at. When they went outside for a break, terrorists gathered but got scared when they saw the pictures. The soldiers caught the terrorists off-guard and killed them all. And with a smile, Tamara went back to her desk to write.
Then there was Yonatan’s story, which I came across while going from child to child in order to congratulate kids on their work. Yonatan wrote in broken, childish Hebrew that was full of innocent mistakes. But the story was far from innocent and about as far from childhood as I can imagine. Here is what he wrote. “My cousin Ben was murdered in Gaza by a terrorist. In the terrorist’s home. He was 22 years old. Three other soldiers were killed along with him.”
I read the story and then looked Yonatan in the eyes and gently put a hand on his shoulder. “How do you feel?” I asked. Yonatan shrugged his shoulders and said “OK.” “Did you cry?” I asked. Yes, he cried. We talked some more about the story, about his cousin, about the funeral. Yonatan asked me if I would save the file with his story, then handed me the laptop and left class. I remained behind holding on to the laptop, the story, and the profound realization that there are many, many kids like Yonatan walking around in Israel right now.
Our kids are quietly mourning. They are processing feelings and experiences that even we adults cannot make sense of or make peace with. Our kids are struggling with a whole gamut of overwhelming experiences and often they are doing so alone. We desperately need to stop and listen to the stories our children are telling us. We might not have answers, but at least we can offer them an embrace and the promise that their stories will not go unheard.