Osama bin Laden: The view from a Mississippi middle school

5 May

I was drawn to this article after a long Monday at school (think: 90 degrees outside, 1 week before state tests, 4 weeks before summer= hotpot of 900 middle schoolers bottled up with too many active hormones, chaos and apathy), during which I heard a few too many times:

“HEY MS. KELLEY, did you know that Hussein man died!”

“MS. KELLEY, all the soldiers gonna come home now!”

“MS. KELLEY, they shot him point blank in the forehead did you know!?”

While I was happy to hear my students talking about more than “that dumb, ugly boy/girl/teacher”, I was struck by how much misinformation my students (not to mention my fellow teachers or administrators) had in regard to bin Laden’s death and terrorism/the wars in general.

At lunch after a hilarious conversation between some of my most intelligent (read: nerdiest) 7th graders about the Royal Wedding (“Eeeww Ms. Kelley they showed them kissing on the TV!” NOTE: NOT A TYPICAL RESPONSE), one of my kids mildly stated, “Oh yea, and that terrorist guy died.” After a morning spent listening to the many takes on what happened, I braced myself for another conversation with mixed-up facts and opinions about just WHO died and the logistics behind how said person died.

However, I was surprised (and I must admit, pleased) to hear what came next. C, one of my favorite but most innocent kids, commented that she thought it was wrong for the U.S. to kill Osama even if he was a terrorist. The boys around her immediately formed the opposition and argued that Osama bin Laden was an evil person and that it was the United States’ duty to kill him. The debate continued for a few minutes, all 70 pounds of C boldly standing up to the boys who, despite their stance that C was merely confused about the meaning of Osama’s death because she was a girl who didn’t like those war type video games/movies, listened, evaluated and challenged what she had to say. Finally one of my quietest turned to me and said, “Well Ms. Kelley, what do you think?”

I paused for a moment, not wanting the wrong message to slip out (middle schoolers have a habit of twisting words jussst so…) and for the first time since I learned of bin Laden’s death 14 hours before, I thought about 9/11 and how that event had impacted me at their age. I remembered getting home and seeing my mom in tears, not being able to tear myself away from the repeating image of the plane flying into the second tower, of crying quietly in the basement but not knowing exactly why or for whom I was crying.

And finally I told my kids exactly what I had been thinking and that frankly, I couldn’t say in that moment whether it was right or wrong for the U.S. to have taken such action, only that it seemed to be some sort of end to a chapter though what that meant for the future was still very unclear. Which brings us back to that article….

“But, more poetically, it is mostly because this is their bookend moment. They were children 10 years ago, old enough to know things were different, but too young to comprehend how completely. Their parents never found the words to explain. And one day, all too soon, these children will be the parents who lack the words to make it all better for children of their own.”

If we are the “9/11 Generation”, then what are they? And what does that mean for the way they think about it?

This post is brought to you by Ms. Kelley.

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