Talking About Difficult Subjects With (Little) Kids

It's tempting for us to water down what we say to young children. As a high school math teacher, my pet peeve is all the elementary teachers who tell kids "the bigger number goes first in a subtraction problem."

Well, no it doesn't, and the federal government is a prime example, as well as many of us regular folks who use debt to pay for roof repairs and college educations. I have to spend a lot of time helping kids to unlearn generalizations about how numbers work because nobody saw fit to offer them a clear and complete explanation from the beginning. I've noticed this getting worse since elementary teachers have been encouraged to teach math in a conceptual manner instead of the old-fashioned rote memorization of procedures way. In my opinion, if you want to talk about math concepts, even with first graders, you need to have a pretty strong concept of math yourself. Otherwise, it may be best to stick to worksheets.

We do this with all kinds of things. We talk about Santa but gloss over the inequity our kids surely notice when Santa seems to treat the children of wealthier parents so much better. We tell them that police officers are there to protect us, but then how do we explain the excessive force by the police against peaceful protesters that is being captured on video all around the country? (Not to mention the more serious police brutality in Egypt and Syria.)

Since moving to my neighborhood, I've been to public safety meetings and have gotten to know several detectives over coffee and bagels on Saturday mornings in cramped board rooms. We know the officers who patrol our neighborhood. Some of them will come to our neighborhood holiday party.

I can say with confidence, that the police officers I know as fellow citizens would not be able to look me in the face and discharge pepper spray at point blank range...even if I were engaged in peaceful civil disobedience in front of them. Clashes occur between protesters and police when one side or the other stops thinking of each other as fellow human beings.

M and I catch ourselves sometimes, offering explanations to Laurel's questions that are not really well thought out, or accurate.

Sometimes, I don't know might be the best answer.

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