February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Global Is the Local | Consider the Source

EH_MarcAaronson_CTS_perm2015Global and local at the same time.

Paris—the assault on a beloved city, the chaos and terror of a disintegrating Syria and Iraq, now spreading.

A stake in the heart—city of light, of liberty, now, again, city of blood.

And drumbeats of war—what will counter this death obsession that is more appealing to some than living? Will the West escalate the war against ISIS? What will that mean for young people growing up today? Young people whose country has been at war—distant yet persistent war—their entire lives?

A leaflet has been produced by the French youth magazine Astrapi, to explain what has happened in France to children. And the Learning Network: Teaching and Learning with The New York Times, has provided resources for teachers and students.

These resources are a start and suggest something we can all do: explain. It’s what both Maira Kalman’s brilliant Fireboat (Putnam, 2002) and Don Brown’s superb America is Under Attack (Roaring Brook, 2011) have done: make it possible to discuss the events of 9/11 with young people. There is no book to discuss the recent events in France and Mali, but we can still try to give context, to address anxieties, to be of help.

We will not “solve” ISIS, but having written about Salem in 1692 (Witch-Hunt), about anti-communism in the 1950s (Master of Deceit), and about the Patriot Act after 9/11 (Master of Deceit, again), I can say for certain what this moment will bring, and, indeed has already brought: a real threat from clever, ruthless, well-financed, and well-trained individuals determined to carry out bloody acts of terror. And responses to that threat that follow existing lines of prejudice and blame.

We must be alert. We do need to be protected. And that attention and protection are likely to bring up serious questions about privacy and civil liberties. France has declared a State of Emergency and is seeking to suspend certain legal protections for the next few months. This is already raising concerns with the public.  American security experts are returning to their demand to create a backdoor to encrypted communications. (In the past, waving the flag of security has run counter the library’s commitment to privacy and intellectual freedom. The Patriot Act put pressure on libraries to release patron records, until the American Library Association (ALA) successfully protested.)

Even as we remain on guard and seek to bring these cruel murderers to justice, we must equally be open to the lives and needs of desperate refugees fleeing Syria. ISIS harms Islam in many ways, but does so clearly in the way it hardens attitudes against the most vulnerable and turns law-abiding citizens into suspects. How do Muslim parents respond to their children’s questions about what happened in France?  WNYC spoke with one Muslim family in Brooklyn, New York,

To help children and teenagers face this moment we can use displays or booktalks to draw analogies to interning Japanese (and even some Italian) Americans in World War II (there are many books about this, including Jeanne D. Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar). We can show young people how witch hunts (any of the many books on events during Salem in the 17th century), red scares (James Cross Giblin’s biography ,The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy, Ellen Levine’s Tiger By the Toe), Muslim registration (Marina Budhos’s Ask Me No Questions) serve as means to give apparent logic to prejudice—against outsiders, older women, skeptics, LGBT Americans, advocates of civil and worker rights, and Muslim Americans. It would be foolish to deny that there are real threats. It is in the best sense true citizenship to use this moment to help young people to resist easy blame and to reject scapegoating.

As we end the year and look ahead, the global is the local—bringing us close to heart-stopping threat and by that very fact, the opportunity to show our heart-opening best.


Marc Aronson About Marc Aronson

Marc Aronson is a Rutgers University lecturer in the School of Communication and Information and the author of many notable nonfiction titles for children and young adults including, The Skull in the Rock, winner of the 2013 Subaru Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His book The Griffin and the Scientist (with Adrienne Mayor) will be published in April 2014. He was the first recipient of the Robert F. Sibert medal from the American Library Association for excellence in nonfiction writing for youth.

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