Trump has moved swiftly, a little more than a week into his term, signing a bunch of controversial executive orders, including one to get his much touted “Wall” between Mexico and the U.S. built and to enact a Muslim Ban (that appears not to have been properly legally vetted) and which not only bars newly entering immigrants from the countries targeted in his Muslim-focused list, but also those legal permanent residents holding green cards here in the U.S. who are from those same origin countries.
These two moves, more than any others so far, are bringing with them the most resistance, fear, and tumult our country has seen in opposition to an American Presidential Administration in decades — and rightfully so. Understandably, it’s all we adults can talk about — no matter which side of the aisle you land. Which means, no doubt, bits of these conversations are trickling down to our kids as well.
So how do we talk to our kids about Trump’s Muslim Ban or “The Wall” or ICE without scaring the Beejeezus out of them?
Current Events + History
As parents, we should not only be prepared to discuss with our children whatever bits of information they’ve picked up (in any arena including political) but we should also be proactive in initiating these discussions and in making sure they receive factually accurate information. In the cases of the Muslim Ban, the promised Muslim Registry, the Mexican Wall and Trump’s pledge to deport thousands of illegal immigrants, there is also the added emotional confusion and fear that may come into play for your child, as a result of having peers whose young lives are already being affected by these actions.
This may be awakening an empathy for their friends and their parents whose skin tone, cultural, religious, or immigration status currently puts them in peril, both from Trump’s executive orders and at the hands of those who think those orders allow them the right to hate speech or action with impunity. This is why it’s not only important to talk frankly with your children about the current political climate in our country but also about the events throughout history that illustrate the importance of speaking out against such actions.
History’s best lessons aren’t always learned in school
Last year, my son (who is currently in the third grade) learned about Japanese Internment Camps here in the Pacific Northwest. It was a well-thought out lesson that encompassed many different aspects of his learning days during that period and which culminated in both a visit to the Japanese American Historical Plaza and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center and saw his entire grade put on a play that attempted to illustrate what it must have been like for those Japanese Americans who were affected. While lessons like these are wonderful and invaluable in your child’s life, with all that our public schools need to impart (including increasing technological demands) to our children, lessons like these are often fewer and further between.
In fact, this year at my son’s school, as is their tradition for the third grade, they’re focusing on the history of Portland’s Lone Fir Cemetery. While I agree that local town history is important, during this pivotal time in our country’s rapidly evolving history, it may be more pertinent to eschew curriculum tradition in favor of the opportunity to teach and speak to current events and explore the ideas of prejudice, equality, human rights, xenophobia, and peaceful protest as an act of patriotism.
I know that school districts often save things like the Holocaust, slavery, Native American genocide, suffrage, and civil rights for grades where they feel these concepts may be more age appropriate. The same philosophy seems to hold true when it comes to discussing current events — that we wait until the kids are older and have developed more critical thinking skills, like junior high or high school. But I’m of the mind that we as communities (school, families, after-school programs, etc.) should be introducing these topics, encouraging discussion and cultivating their early critical thinking skills by engaging our children at these younger ages as well.
Parents and Communities
We (and by we, I mean each and every one of us) should be giving voice to the communities most affected by the atrocities of our past and even our present, discussing the current issues of our day, and the exploring the inequities in our society and in our daily lives. We should be sharing those histories with our children regularly throughout their childhood and not just during a specially appointed day or month.
History, no matter which community, in particular, it is focused on, belongs to us all. If your community was not oppressed, it may very well have been the oppressor, or the complicit, unwilling to stand up or speak out. Taking ownership of these truths and acting as their steward for a next generation not only empowers you and your child but your entire community.
This seems ever more important, especially now, as we watch history repeat itself right before our eyes. Yes, these are hard topics to wrestle with (they’re hard for adults) but they ARE vitally important to the preservation of a free society. We have to give our children, and all of our people, a connection to the realities and gravity of these historical events so that they really “get” what’s happening.
We know that we’ve not done a good job of this up to this point, as evidenced by the amount of historical ignorance and disrespect we see running rampant today, not just in America but all around the world. Take for instance, the clueless millennials recently exposed via their social media posts (and one audacious artist’s blog), smiling in yoga and parkour poses among the concrete slabs of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, erected in remembrance of the 6 million Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust at the hands of a powerful, fascist dictator.
This is why it is crucial that we as parents and community members do our part to educate our children outside of school, teaching them not only the value of kindness, tolerance, and acceptance of other peoples and ways of life but also the factual history and the value and absolute necessity of standing up against those who would have us repeat its worst injustices.
A list of books to get you started
I’ve not only been discussing current events and their historical context with my child for years now but I’ve also been compiling a list of links on historical books for kids, for a variety of ages (many of which could even be read to younger children, if you take the time to guide them along in their understanding and to encourage their exploration and discussion of the ideas contained therein). While many of these books are non-fiction, there are a great many fiction books that share engaging stories set during historically important times that can help ignite discussion, curiosity, and further exploration for your child.
Last year my son and I read one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee together. Right now, we are tackling The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. In between, he gets a variety of age-appropriate fiction and non-fiction, picture books (like Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, or Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed or the hilariously big-headed Who Was book series) and chapter books (like the Magic Treehouse Fact Tracker or Dear America series) that he can read on his own. When he’s done, we discuss what he learned from them and how he feels about what he learned or what thoughts the books sparked and maybe even how he would have reacted had he lived in that time period.
It’s important stuff — not only for the history he’s taking in but for the ways in which he’s learning to think, feel, digest, and express about the world around him. There is nothing like connecting with another person’s story to help you gain a wider perspective on the world.
You’ll find that list of links here (posted below) in the hopes that it will inspire other parents and community members to engage their children more fully in history and current events so that we may all have a greater understanding and context for our world.
This list is by no means exhaustive or complete but rather meant as a start to your own child’s journey through history.
Do you have a favorite historical book or series that isn’t mentioned in the resource lists below? Share it in the comments.
- A Mighty Girl: United States History, World History
- 20 Book Series to Get Kids Hooked on History
- 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know
- 30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know
- Multicultural Literature (“. . . books by and about people of color and First/Nation Nations.”)
- Holocaust Learning Materials and Resources
- Slavery Museum 4 Teens (a Wikia exploration of the Slavery Museum that also includes a list of young adult books about slavery)
- The NEA’s Black History Month Lessons and Resources list
- 30 Days of Ramadan: Understanding Our Muslim Friends Contains multiple Multicultural Book Day lists
- Goodreads List of Best Children’s Historical Fiction