Teaching Compassion in a Time of Crisis

Yesterday, the first day back at school after the week-end’s disaster, the third graders at my daughter’s school decided to gather pencils and notebooks and things for the children who had to evacuate their homes in northern Japan. The teachers discussed the earthquake with the kids, and they are making further plans to help out on a wider scale. My daughter brought a box of pencils to school today to donate.

My husband, who is a high school teacher at a school for the disabled, led his students in a moment of silence to honor the thousands of victims of the tsunami.

I asked my son what he did at school in relation to the quake.

“My teacher talked about it a little,” he said, “but we had to practice for graduation.”

According to my son, there was no further initiative to help the students deal with whatever anxiety or concerns they may have regarding the quake. Nor did I hear of any efforts to comfort or help the survivors, or remember the lives that were washed away. I found this incredible, especially since at every event open to parents, the principal talks about how the school is helping the students to develop kind, caring hearts. Can they really be so busy practicing for graduation, that they can’t spare an hour, or even fifteen minutes, or even a moment of silence?

Again today, nothing.

But then I was thinking about how, after school on Friday, I turned on the news and watched the approaching wave over and over – the houses washing away, the people scrambling desperately up the hills, the cars swirling in the water.  I could hardly tear my eyes away. I wanted my daughter to bear witness because these are her people. This is her country. And at almost twelve, having toured the Peace Museum in Hiroshima and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., having been deeply moved by these horrible events, I felt she was old enough to deal with tsunami footage.

Maybe I was wrong to make her watch it for so long. To make her wallow in tragedy.

At seven o’clock, she tried to find her favorite cartoon, “Doraemon,” on television, but every station was broadcasting tsunami and earthquake updates. She was disappointed, and I became irritated with her.  Was she really so spoiled and lacking in feeling?

She didn’t see any disaster scenes all day Saturday or Sunday. We made crepes together. It was a normal and fun activity. Usually, her weekend diary is about baking or cooking or maybe shopping. When I asked to check her homework, she showed me what she’d written Saturday evening.

She’d written about watching the news with me. She wrote about the earthquake and the big wave and the fires and houses that floated away. She wrote about how scared it made her feel. 

Maybe she’d had enough.

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8 thoughts on “Teaching Compassion in a Time of Crisis

  1. i’m sure she had.

    from what you’ve said about you’re son’s teacher and school in the past, i am not surprised by the lack of teaching compassion. the best thing you can do is show him at home.

  2. Or maybe they don’t want to upset the kids? I don’t know. I’m giving them the benefit of a doubt. My son does have a different teacher this year – someone who is kinder, and has more patience. But it seems, somehow, that the school would give some attention to the crisis.

    We’ve been talking about the disaster at home, of course. My son knows what’s going on, and we’ll help him find a way to contribute.

  3. Suzanne…your children are very lucky to have you. Children learn compassion from their parents and teachers. I think that most people are not born that way but are raised to show love and understanding for others. It’s hard to imagine how anyone in Japan–or anyone who cares about Japan–could neglect to focus on this crisis in the schools.

    I’m thinking I need to teach my second graders a Japanese folk song, show them some photos, and ask them to keep the Japanese children in their thoughts. Can you think of something tangible second graders in Oregon could do for the children in Japan?

  4. For the record, I spoke to one of the teachers at my son’s school today. I feel better, but I don’t know if they will actually do something.

    Marie, I think teaching your students about Japan is a really nice idea. It’s probably too early to send stuff to the evacuated kids, but maybe they could do something simple to raise a little money? Is second grade too young for bake sales? Maybe later send pictures or messages of encouragement?

  5. Yahoo had something about Americans in Japan and I immediately thought of you. Glad you are not in danger. Sorry that others are. Best

  6. At the public Japanese JHS where I teach, in Hokkaido, the students were very scared by the earthquake. It was not so bad compared to other places, but still very different from usual, and soon they heard about the tsunami, and we had aftershocks. Then they went home.

    Monday was a half-day, for graduation practice. The principal gave a short but moving talk, and we had a moment of silence. A couple of kids also mentioned it in their talks. The music teacher told them later in the practice that one of their graduation ceremony songs was actually something to do with disasters.

    Then Tuesday was the graduation ceremony. Again, the principal gave a short but moving talk (just before the opening words of the ceremony) and we had a moment of silence. The final song (mentioned above) was sung especially movingly by the students (it is still going through my head, 2 days later).

    At my younger son’s Japanese public elem. school, they are bringing money to school to donate, and also their teacher has talked about it, etc. The only dodgy part was that he suggested that the earthquake and tsunami in NE Japan might be balancing out the fact that most other disasters, such as Minamoto-byo, have occured in the southern parts of Japan. I thought that was a kind of strange way of thinking about it (but their teacher is a kind of weird guy anyway — a great teacher for them and I like him, but a bit weird!).

  7. I forgot to mention – my younger son is going to be 12 this summer, and after watching for a while on TV, he also wanted to return to his regular programming. I think at that age it’s just too much for their brains to handle more than a couple of hours of such scenes on TV. We are trying to give him some TV time now, too.

    I just hope they can get supplies to the isolated people in time – I’m so worried about them.

    • Thanks, Christie. My son finally admitted that the principal had mentioned the earthquake, but he insists that students didn’t discuss it in class, and they haven’t decided to do anything to support the victims as a class.

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