Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Community in Mourning

We don't understand ourselves.  How can we understand others?

Today we started off class reading a New York Times article about a United Nations researcher who was working for peace in the DRC when he was kidnapped and killed.

The story touched on many parts of the 7th grade curriculum that I am to talk about: human rights, citizenship, democracy, The U.N., and The U.N. Security Council.  As they were non-violently looking to solve serious global conflicts, it made sense to read the article right after watching and discussing Gandhi.  There were many parallels.

But The New York Times article didn't mention one thing: Michael Sharp was from Elkhart County.  He graduated from Bethany Christian, and many in our community are mourning the loss of a friend, a former student, someone they knew from church...

Social studies, in the abstract is impotent.  We understand the ideas, but only when they get close to touching us - or actually, heaven forbid touch us - do we understand power.

After MJ (as his friends and teachers called him) was kidnapped, his father said this:

"I have said on more than one occasion that we peacemakers should be willing to risk our lives as those who join the military do.  Now it's no longer theory."

That idea of peacemaking reminded me of a scene we just watched:

There is great injustice going on right now in the DRC.  And Michael Sharp was making it visible.  But he also did it without hate, or violence.  The NYT article mentions him going to church in order to build relationships with mass murders.  "Mr. Sharp, 34, had been in Congo for five years, with an enviable network of rebel commanders and local leaders, most of whom he had met in church.  'Michael told me one time: 'Rebels go to church.  You build relationships with them there,' said Rachel Sweet, a researcher who knew him."

And, he had much success.  In a separate article, which we didn't read in class, it says that his joint work with the Congolese Council of Christian Churches had, "convinced some 1,600 fighters to give up arms."

MJ had many friends around here.  On social media, the outpourings of grief were troubling and moving.  It was a reminder that social studies is real people.  Real consequences.  And it was a reminder that our students have many paths laid out before them.

I've had my quote of the day quote on my back board for several days now.  I put it up well before the news broke.  I put it up because we had just learned of Gandhi's assassination, and it was from his holy book, The Bhagavad Gita.  "The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead.  There was never a time when you and I and all kings gathered here have not existed and nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist."

Though Gandhi and Sharp were different: different nationality, different customs, different ethnicity, different religions, different theology...  They were able to find commonality with people vastly different than themselves in their work towards peace.

Students in my class can earn extra credit if they read and discuss this blog post with an adult.  After you read it and discuss it, write 5 sentences about your discussion.  Have the adult you discussed with sign the paper.  Make sure your name is on it, and turn it in tomorrow.

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