Sometimes to venture outside the walls of our classroom we have to walk for a while in the shoes (or boots) of another. It means having important conversations. Conversations that are serious. Conversations that need to be handled with both honesty and discretion. A day off from school in observance of Veteran’s Day began the conversation. Upon learning that not a student in the class knew what a veteran was, we began, like all else, at the beginning. We came up with a simple definition:
Veteran: a person who has served in the armed forces (a.k.a. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard)
The conversation continued, fueled by family stories and family memorabilia, family pride and family history.
We read excerpts about the United States military and about Veteran’s Day.
We began a project inspired by the idea of empathy. What would it be like to be a soldier, away from home and away from family? We wrote about it in our Writers’ Notebooks. Then we wrote letters to active duty soldiers.
A little art allowed us to continue the conversation.
We connected back to the natural world.
Then we imagined ourselves as soldiers.
Our week closed with a powerful and patriotic all school assembly, complete with former and active duty service men and woman.
Afterward, we had a conversation that was both important and serious. I wanted to hang our Army Art in the hallway, but some of the kids had included weapons in their pictures, because that is the reality of being in the military. The reality of fighting. The reality of war. I didn’t want those weapons to be misunderstood. I didn’t want them to be trivialized or glorified or taken for granted or worst of all seen as cool or the way to fight “bad guys.”
So. We talked about guns. We talked through the idea that real life is not like a video game. There are no extra lives and no restarts. Things got really serious when kids realized that even “bad guys” have families and homes and people who care about them. That sometimes what is important to our enemies are just things that are different than what is important to us. There is no easy answer and many shades of gray and that peace and kindness might really be the only way. Then one of my eight year olds said, “You know, different is not always bad. Just different,” and I realized that there is hope. Things learned can be applied other places. What our veterans have fought for is not in vain. The future can be bright. It is full of potential.
We decided that if we wanted to hang our soldiers up, we would take out the weapons because not everybody else in our school had the same discussion as us. Not everybody would see it the way we did, and we didn’t want to make anybody nervous or scared or worried.
This wall holds the future in more ways than one. Walking for a while in another’s shoes, or boots, allowed some students to walk in their own shoes with a little more awareness. A little more understanding. A future veteran could be looking back at us.