Teaching about Paris

It took me a while to come to terms with the Paris attacks. I knew that as a European teaching in Korea I should broach the subject with my students, and attempt to encourage some kind of understanding about something that is so preposterous. However, my initial response was a refusal to read any of the numerous articles depicting the horrific events of Friday the 13th.

My avoidance proved nearly impossible due to social media, so I deleted my apps in order to shelter myself. Personally, I found there to be far too many opinions screaming throughout the internet. People were literally telling you how you should feel about an event that is so horrific that it will clearly affect us all differently. It is absurd to assume that there would be a common response to this tragedy, and social media only reiterated this fact as people flocked to their keyboards in order to portray their emotions about the attacks. Opinions were varied in many respects which caused numerous online disputes. Watching these arguments unfold I felt a dark dread about the future of humanity. How could something so horrific encourage so many more feuds? Shouldn’t a disaster like this encourage us to tread down the peaceful path? Apparently not, so I buried my head in the sand and dealt with my own grievances.

Eventually, social media calmed down, and I came to terms with the situation enough to plan a debate class for some of my older students. I purposely avoided leading the pupils down a specific path of thinking; instead I encouraged them to voice their own opinions, and insisted that there was no right or wrong answer.

First, I had them brainstorm the facts that they knew about the Friday 13th events. Then we moved away from the evidence and broached the opinions. I asked an array of questions in order to gauge the feelings regarding the attacks. Similar to what the internet was proclaiming, many of the students had contradicting beliefs, and I allowed them to rationally discuss their reasoning. The most poignant questions for me were: ‘How do you feel about ISIS?’ and ‘How do you feel about Islam?’ Some student’s response didn’t differ between the two queries; they felt that both contained a certain badness that needed to be eradicated. However, many of them acknowledged the distinctness of the two, and alleged that one instilled a sense of fear, whilst the other did not. Their differing opinions didn’t cause aggressive disputes, (such as the ones that were playing out on the internet), instead they accepted their diversity.

Another point of the discussion which struck me as significant was whether more police officers and CCTV should now be employed to protect the public. This was greeted with a unanimous affirmative. I will hazard a guess that possibly none of the teenagers at my school have yet to read 1984, so they might not completely comprehend the paranoia that infects a lifestyle where one is under constant observation. However, they are neighbours and relatives with a country that employs some of these tactics on their own citizens, and the regime in the North is not exactly viewed positively. These students are aware of how surveillance can turn against the people it is supposed to be protecting, but they remain hopeful that their own country will only use these strategies to protect them. 

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