Helping youngsters respond to violence, insurrection  

The following appeared during January in a number of APG of East Central Mn newspapers, including the Star News, serving the Elk River, Otsego and Zimmerman area.  The column also has appeared in, for example, the Anoka, Blaine and Coon Rapids papers, the Forest Lake Times, ThisWeek newspapers and the Morrison County Record.


Helping youngsters respond to violence, insurrection


Whether you are a foe or fan of former President Donald Trump, two Minnesota Teachers of the Year and I agree it’s vital to discuss recent events at the U.S. Capitol — and here in Minnesota — with youngsters. This isn’t easy. Things change daily. Nevertheless, we can help young people process, plan and help create a better country.

One of the most helpful free resources I’ve found was prepared by the National Association of School Psychologists. They offer two pages of clear, specific suggestions titled “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers.” Their first three suggestions are:

— “Reassure children that they are safe.”

— “Make time to talk.”

— “Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.” (Which means, gear your conversation to the age of the youngster. The conversation with a 6-year-old will be somewhat different than with a 16-year-old.)

There’s a lot more here.

Let’s turn to Minnesota Teachers of the Year Dr. Lee-Ann Stephens, High Achievement Program coordinator in the St. Louis Park Schools, and Qorsho Hassan, a fourth grade teacher in District 196 (serving Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eagan). Hassan wrote to me that the day after the U.S. Capitol was invaded:

“My fourth graders had a range of emotions and needed a safe space to share their fear, disappointment, concerns, and curiosity. We spent about 25 minutes discussing how they felt, what questions they had, and their reflections. It’s so important to have these conversations with children to foster critical thinking and to name white supremacy. I want my students to disrupt and disavow white supremacy and grow up to be leaders who accurately educate others on this moment.”

Stephens added: “I believe some teachers have been complicit in ignoring behaviors of White students that they wouldn’t ignore from BIPOC, (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) particularly Black students. This has always been America. Yesterday was a

mirror for WhiteAmerica, not a window.”

Dr. Lee-Ann Stephens

Stephens and Hassan are challenging those of us who are white to acknowledge and act. Whatever your views about Trump, I think there are countless examples of a double standard in how BIPOC and white folks often are treated in this country.

People around the world are watching us and are worried. Every week I talk with educators and students online in Canada, the United Kingdom and Finland, as well as other parts of the U.S.

One of them is Ella, a 17-year-old in Portsmouth, England. She described what she and her friends are seeing: “Armed police were dispatched almost instantly to peaceful protests for BLM (not referencing un-peaceful displays) yet there was nowhere near as large of a response or as hostile of a response for this rioting.”

Another person I learn from is John Poupart, a fascinating 80-plus-year-old who has been a Golden Glove boxer, an inmate and, later, a graduate of Harvard. Poupart founded the American Indian Policy Center and is being asked to speak throughout the state. He emphasized that “there are sooo (sic) many options for expression.” I agree.

The goal is NOT to feel guilty. The goal for all of us — adults and youngsters — is to listen, learn and then help make this a better country. Materials compiled by the national non-partisan publication Ed Week are helpful, found here.

As a parent and grandparent, I found that two of the most helpful books among many available, are “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo, and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. My favorite website about constructive actions that young people and adults can take is “What Kids Can Do.”

For those interested in hearing other Minnesota, U.S. and international views, there’ll be an online International Day of Education on Jan. 25. Information can be found here:

A new year gives us opportunities to refresh and help re-form our country. Let’s do that with our youngsters. — Joe Nathan

(Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at or JoeNathan9249 on Twitter.)