Russia is big enough, why does it want another country? Why are most crazy men? Many of the questions that teachers in Europe must find answers to in relation to the war in Ukraine arise in the minds of students, and not just in the teaching of geography or history. Governments across Europe have drawn up guidelines for trial and error teachers.
One sunny morning, the children of the town of Horsham, in the south of England, returned from a hunt. Concerned about the war in Ukraine, they began asking their teachers questions, writes the New York Times.
“Russia is big enough, why does it want another country? they asked. Eleven-year-old Max looked at the atlas while asking his teachers about Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Why most crazy people are men,” asked 11-year-old Jessica. His peer Issy turned to his teacher. “Do you want to stay and fight for your country? she asked.
Tara Harmer, who has been teaching for 36 years, thought. “That’s a tough question, isn’t it?” she stated. “My instinct would be to protect you,” she thought. “Yes, I think I would fight for my country,” she added.
While Europeans have struggled with the shock of a war that is taking place almost behind the scenes, trying to orient themselves in the amount of war intelligence, teachers have had little time to deal with what is happening. – they had to give the children answers quickly.
“I have a hundred questions,” said Sandro Pellicciotta, who teaches geography at a high school in Bologna, northern Italy. “And to be honest, I’m pretty scared not to say something stupid,” he added.
Today’s school children were born long after the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, and some were still toddlers when the war in Syria peaked. No conflict they remember because of their age has appeared on their tiktok channels to the same extent as the war in Ukraine, nor has it taken place so close to home.
It’s hard to convince kids they’re safe
The distance between the world of children and the world of geopolitics has shrunk, and teachers are trying to allay their students’ fears that war will affect them all. Teachers also say that after two years of pandemics, it is harder for them to convince children that the world is not a hostile place.
Teachers from across Europe, many of whom were contacted by telephone, described the problems they face in the classroom and the questions they have asked.
In Marseille, a 10-year-old student raised his hand to say he wanted to hide. An 18-year-old student in Warsaw feared being called up for combat. The 16-year-old Milan student said she couldn’t imagine what awaits her in the future. After watching a fake video, a boy in Tuscany wondered if someone had bombed the Eiffel Tower.
Governments across Europe have taken note of the challenges the war in Ukraine poses to teachers and have developed guidelines for them.
Get the facts, government tells teachers
The UK Department for Education said the current situation is ‘causing problems which some schools and some teachers may not have faced before’. He encouraged teachers to “find out the facts” and encourage discussion, and provided resources to tackle misinformation.
The French government said teachers should explain the common history of Russia and Ukraine, but stressed that it “did not support the thesis that Ukraine, a sovereign state, did not have the right to independence”. Nor, according to the instructions, should teachers insist on discussing the war unless students are willing to do so.
Warsaw professor Stanislaw Dutka agrees with such an approach. On the first day of the Russian invasion, however, his seventh graders asked him to interrupt his classes and tell them about Ukraine. He first gave them drawing papers to calm down. Then he asked them if they wanted to say something. “Everyone raised their hands,” he said. “It was such self-help therapy,” he added.
In February, Pellicciotta students asked if war would break out in Ukraine. When she started, they wanted to know more. “If you were Putin, would you attack? asked a student.
Geography gives tools to interpret reality
In a conflict known as the first war on tiktok, children and teenagers have access to a wealth of information, often unverified, disturbing and can cause anxiety. Pellicciotta is happy to be able to explain to the students who come to him what is true and what is not. According to him, understanding geography is essential. “The beauty of geography is that it gives you the tools to interpret reality,” he said. “He doesn’t give you answers,” he added.
He showed the students a map of Ukraine and pointed out where there are plains and access to the sea, saying these are desirable attributes for an ambitious foreign leader. According to Pellicciott, it was difficult to give an objective interpretation in class. In this context, he noted that while some students see Putin as a “beast”, others see him as a “dense and tough” leader.
For the other teachers, bias was not a problem. “It’s such an obvious imperialist war,” said Thor Alexander Almelid, an elementary school teacher in Oslo, Norway. “It’s just a matter of right and wrong,” he added. In front of his seventh year, he opened a map of the world, which, coincidentally, dates back to the 1980s and depicts the Soviet Union. He explained to the students that the world had stood above the abyss in the past, but diplomacy prevented nuclear wars.
At the end, however, he said we can only hope that a nuclear war doesn’t happen. “I tried to calm them down and reassure them as much as possible,” he said. “But I don’t want to lie to my students,” he added.
Young children seek reassurance
In young children, the balance between truth and comfort tends toward the latter. “Putin is a bit like that, he argues with his neighbors – don’t your parents argue with your neighbors?” their teacher Jessica Licciardi told the third graders of the Sicilian primary school. When a child told her that Putin killed children in hospitals, she replied that it was a mistake. “I just can’t tell them they’re killing children,” she said. “It’s too hard,” she added.
Nevertheless, when the fighters flew over the school, which often happens due to the proximity of the base, there was nervousness in the classroom. “Is the war coming here?” asked one of the children. “Do we have any Russians here?” added. Licciardova told the children that there were Russians in Italy, but they weren’t mean and they weren’t going to war.
Nicky Cox, editor of First News, a British children’s newspaper, said her publication was also looking to get the message across. “We don’t want Russian children to be bullied because of Putin,” she said. “We know this is happening,” she added.
When Emeline Boutaud, who teaches at a high school in Paris, saw footage of the invasion on television while on vacation, she immediately remembered her students. “How do I find the words,” she said. “I don’t understand it myself,” she added. After returning to school, she was relieved when a volunteer from a media education organization joined her at a workshop on the war in Ukraine.
Some questions will never be answered
Members of Entre les Lignes have toured French schools in recent weeks, explaining that Putin does not want to “rebuild the United States”, as one confused student put it, and that the threat to use a bomb nuclear does not necessarily mean “to do”. “
The association’s founder, Sandra Laffont, was shocked by the level of fear among ten-year-old teenagers she recently visited in Marseille. She showed them the distance between France and Ukraine on a map and explained that France was not on the brink of war. But she said teachers have to get used to not knowing the answers to all the questions. “For example, why Putin did it…I don’t have an answer,” she said.
However, many students have found their own solution. Jessica from Ms Harmer’s class suggested that the Ukrainians could use thousands of sponges on dishes to dry up the rivers, trapping Russian tanks in the dried up riverbeds. For 11-year-old Ajay, the solution to the conflict was evident in his atlas. “They are just two different countries,” he said. “One is big and green, the other is small and pink,” he added.