What Can Public Programming Do?
Lately, with the Florida shooting in the news, and the general disregard in the halls of power for public sentiment on the issue, I've found myself more pressed upon emotionally than is really comfortable. It didn't help that the other day, as NPR news started a segment on "the recent school shooting," my nine-year-old son said in a level tone, "turn it off." I did. I asked if he needed to talk about it. He said just as level, "I don't want to." I told him that I understood, and that I would answer any questions he might have when he's ready to ask them.
As I was thinking of potential posts, I just kept coming back to dark topics. I don't want to go there. I want to look at things that can push the darkness out. And after some meditation on it, I came to remember the way I taught Homer's Odyssey when I was in the classroom. I took the perspective of the son who was denied the chance to know his father, due to his father's being called away to war. At first blush this may not seem to be that much sunnier than where I started from, but I'm not interested in the war with that unit. Instead, I started that unit with a discussion around the effort Sesame Street put forth to help kids with the real situation of their parents' deployments. See the embedded clip. It's pretty powerful.
I don't remember how I chanced upon this clip, but when I saw it, I knew that coping with a difficult situation was the lens for my work with students, rather than glorifying the revenge and gore that Odyssey culminates in.
Recently, I found out that Sesame Street is partnering with the IRC to help out in refugee camps.
I had thought that the initial clip I'd used to set the tone for my literature unit was a one-off, but rather what I've discovered is that Sesame Street tries to provide support for several difficult situations that catapult children into the confusing world of adults, like incarceration or divorce. I'm not sure how Sesame Street could ever address school shootings.
Sesame Street isn't the only program that has taken on difficult topics. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was known for this too. (I should note that only a few days ago on Feb 19th, it was the 50th anniversary of the show) I also think of Fred Rogers' words from his mother, when it comes to finding hope in tragedy.
There are several moments that he had like this, but I would like to share a funny moment from an Oprah interview from 1985 that also highlights some of the missteps we can make as adults when talking with kids. Rogers said, "When a child asks a question, sometimes adults launch right into what they think the answer should be. I think maybe the best way is to ask another question, and find out really what they mean by that. I remember a child one time asked, 'Where did I come from?' and the parent went into this long explanation about reproduction, and said, 'Does that satisfy you?' And the child said, 'Well, Billy came from Detroit, and I just wondered where I came from..."
I know that in times like these, we often don't have answers, or if we do, they're often unsatisfactory. But as I think about the work that the Sesame Street people are doing, and think back to Mr. Rogers, I am reminded of the words of Dr. King which have been put out again and again lately--“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (Dr. M. L. King Jr. Strength to Love, 1963)