Reposted from the Philadelphia Inquirer
I JUST HAD one of the hardest days of my teaching career. The reason was not because of student behavior or the lack of funding for Philadelphia schools. The reason was that my fourth-grade students and I had discussed the very real problem of gun violence in our city and its neighborhoods, and how close to home it hits for many of Philadelphia's students.
We read Helen Ubinas's column from the Daily News - "Who is crying over Philly's children who live amid our gun culture?" - and watched the Public Service Announcement from Unity in the Community, "Stop the Violence," which featured Philly children who have lost fathers to gun violence. I had two students who have lost their own fathers to gun violence (one only two months ago) share this article and video with their classmates. Then they shared their own experience and grief in losing a parent.
What followed was story after story of these 9- and 10-year-olds losing grandfathers, uncles, and cousins, all to gun violence. By the time everyone who wanted to share had a chance, over 85 percent of the 30 students in my class revealed they had lost someone. In the process there were tears, sadness, anger, fear and grief, all of which was very raw and very real.
We often think that kids are resilient, and that they are able to overcome losses and bounce back easily. While these children may overcome their grief over time, something they are not able to overcome is the prevalence of violence and guns that is plaguing the streets on which many of our children are living. These children live in constant fear of stray bullets flying into windows or hitting a loved one on the streets. I have never personally lost anyone to gun violence, but, as I listened to the stories and witnessed all the tears and sadness, it became very clear that we as educators, parents, community leaders and organizers, politicians and society as a whole need to address this very pressing problem.
We are raising a group of children in our city who are scarred from the guns that are taking the lives of so many of their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and cousins. These children feel powerless. They feel there is nothing they can do. One student even shared with me, "Adults won't listen to kids. They don't even listen to other adults. They are just going to keep using guns because they don't care what other people say or who they hurt." Given the stalemate of any reasonable gun control measures at the federal or state level, I can't help but think that she is right.
Fortunately, over the remaining months of this school year, I am going to help dispel their notion that "adults won't listen to kids." As part of our service-learning project with Need in Deed, a nonprofit organization that facilitates service-learning in Philadelphia classrooms, these students are going to use their voice and be heard, letting our elected leaders know the human toll gun that violence takes on the children in our city.
Hopefully, this can be the beginning of a very important discussion and long-awaited action on reducing gun violence and accessibility to guns in our city.
Losing a loved one to gun violence is not something most 9- and 10-year-olds should have experienced. I hope their action will lead to future groups of students where no one has lost a loved one to gun violence.