Kids these days (are scared of different things)

I was recently reminded by one of the truly fantastic classroom teachers I partner with through the San Francisco Opera’s ARIA program that when planning lessons, holidays can be milked for all they’re worth. Especially Halloween. Thus inspired, I decided to focus on the scary this week with my 4th and 5th grade classes at W.P. Elementary. And I didn’t want just zombies and ghosts. I wanted the Real scary.

Of course, when you ask 31 ten-year old kids what scares them, their first reaction is exactly that: zombies, ghosts, chainsaws, blood, and guts. Their instinct is to fear exactly what they have been taught to fear, regardless of whether they have seen the horror films to match.  Though I would be the last to relegate the undead to non-scary (classic horror movies will always give me the creeps), I wanted the students to consider the scary on a level deeper. To find what Really Scared them. In life. For real.

I don’t remember anymore what scared me when I was ten years old, but I can guarantee that if you had asked my 5th grade class of fifteen years ago to list what truly scared us, it would have been a completely different list of fears than those recorded on the Room 26 whiteboard yesterday morning. The students were afraid of things that I’m pretty sure I had no awareness of at their age:

  • Terrorist Attacks
  • Tsunamis
  • Guns
  • Global Warming

They were particularly scared of 9-11, and the idea of an unexpected disaster was at the core of our entire list.

photo by Brian Boyd

Given the era these students are growing up in, I suppose their list of fears can’t be too surprising. Our sense of what can be rationally feared has irrevocably shifted with the rise of worldwide terrorist attacks (and our focus on it as a country), and to these students the threat feels very real. As if to tie together the entire lesson, we ended when San Francisco’s weekly noon-time siren sounded, and a voice assured us “This is a test. This is a test of the outdoor emergency system. This is only a test.”

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