I am a teacher as well as an avid football fan. I went to a large state university with a top tier athletic program, so my social media feeds and conversations with friends have been dominated by the #Takeaknee movement since the precipice of the debate came to fruition this past Sunday during the nation’s professional football matches. Discussing the social constructs behind the movement have been equally enlightening and challenging when conversing with other adults, but what I wasn’t expecting was the curiosity of my students and their respective confusion and need to understand what is happening in the national dialogue right now.
One of my students, an 8-year-old child, approached me on Monday and asked very earnestly, “Teacher, why is everyone so upset about the football players?” Another student, a 10-year-old, came to me on Tuesday and posed the questions, “Aren’t you supposed to stand up during the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance? Why are the football players not standing up?” Since children are best able to comprehend new concepts when they are related to their own experiences, I explained to them the #Takeaknee movement using the analogy of how injuries are handled if a child is hurt during gym class at school. I also tailored my explanations so that they were age appropriate for the respective children, as there is a difference between what a young child can process and what an older child can understand.
I said, “When the class is playing soccer and someone falls down and becomes hurt, all of the other players on the field and on the sidelines bend down on one knee. You stop playing the game and you stay on your knee until the coach is able to help the player who is hurt. Bending down onto the ground when one of your teammates is on the ground because he/she is hurt is a way to show that you recognize that he/she is hurt. You are using the action of bending down on your knee to show that you care and want for the person who is hurt to get better.”
“Sometimes when one of your friends gets hurt while playing soccer, the coach doesn’t see it right away, but other kids on the field do see it. When those kids bend down on one knee and the coach sees everyone taking a knee, then the coach knows that someone is hurt and he/she can go onto the field to help the person who is hurt. It is also important to take a knee when someone is hurt because if you keep playing soccer and the coach tries to go onto the field, then the coach could be hurt if someone ran into him/her or if he/she was hit by a soccer ball while trying to help the injured player.”
Of course, the students to whom I was explaining this analogy both followed up with the inquiry, “So when the football players bend down on their knees, does that mean that someone is hurt?”
To which I gave the response, “The football players are showing that they care about the people who are hurt. Some people aren’t treated equally because they look different than other people look, and the football players want to show that they believe that everyone deserves the same respect. When the football players take a knee, they are showing the people who are in charge and the people who can help that there are other people who are hurt.”
Racism is a massive construct to explain, and especially to a child. Since children are easily
influenced young beings, I was very careful not to insert my own opinions or impressions when explaining to them #Takeaknee. As a teacher, I must be diligent not to cross any professional boundaries. It is my job to help students grow academically, personally, and socially, but also my duty to differentiate between whether what I say to my students will help them achieve a greater understanding appropriate to their development, or if it is a conversation better to be had with their parents. When I discuss difficult topics with my students, I always try to relay the virtues that are important for them to incorporate into their own lives and relationships. To other teachers and adults looking for a way to explain the current national conversation to students, I urge you to communicate kindness, compassion, and acceptance. It is our responsibility to help our students develop positive habits that will help them grow into healthy adults. In the case of #Takeaknee, the positive habits that I tried to convey to my students were the habits of helping those in need and showing compassion when someone else is hurt. Just as soccer is not an individual sport, neither this country nor the global community should be built on individual isolation. We are all on the same team.
Photo credit: Getty Images
(via The Good Men Project)