I had quite a few reader comments last week when, during my “Quick Look” of what we were going to discuss in that day’s news meeting, I noted that, for the first time in several years, I’d left the front-page section of the New York Times out of my classroom that day. Why? Two front-page stories with explicit detail of sexual assaults (by a famous comedian and a national politician), coupled with a front-page article about graphic video footage from the Texas church shooting — and, on top of that, a sexual “quote of the day” pulled from the story about the comedian, right where I’ve taught my students to look for interesting articles. (And actually, all of this was in places where my students would look for the news.) The content simply was inappropriate, especially for my youngest students, who are nine and mostly still believe in Santa Claus.
Because this was my “quick look” and was, therefore, written quickly, I didn’t elaborate on my decision and thus perhaps left the impression that I was unhappy with the Times editors and/or the state of journalism today.
That is not the case.
The sexual abuse articles included far more explicit detail than I’d be comfortable discussing with my 9- to 12-year-old students. However, they were well-written, carefully-reported and appropriate given our current climate regarding both sexual abuse allegations and our political reality. I am certain Times editors and reporters had many lengthy, detailed discussions about what information to include and how to write those articles. I trust their judgement. If anything, I’d argue that the “quote of the day” was gratuitous and juvenile, and I’ll admit that it sealed my decision because of its prominence. But that’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things.
The Texas shooting story, I probably could have skipped or handled. But within the context of everything else, it was just too much.
The thing is: when you open your classroom to difficult conversations, you’re still the adult in charge. Your judgement matters. You set the tone. I’ve been asked by other teachers whether any topic is “off-limits” during our class news meetings and my answer is yes, most sexual abuse stories because my students are not yet prepared for these discussions.
However, I’m not about to go cutting such stories from the newspaper, or scribbling over them in black Sharpie. Instead, we can talk about other sections of that day’s newspaper. And if any student asks where the front page section is, I’ll answer honestly. I left it out of the classroom because I felt some of the content wasn’t appropriate to discuss today.
That doesn’t mean I disagree with the journalism — just that it wasn’t appropriate for an elementary classroom news meeting. Not everything is.