Ukraine and Russia have been dominating headlines worldwide for a couple of weeks now. Though it is highly unlikely that they are tuned into the nightly news, your students have no doubt seen some form of coverage, somewhere. It probably has been via TikTok or other forms of social media. Because students are being exposed to the war, you will more than likely end up talking about it in class. That’s okay.
Wars, tragic as they may be, are major historical events. Many history standards are actually built around them as it is nearly impossible to fully contextualize history without the lens of state-on-state violence. Wars are to social science, what volcanos are to physical science: The end result of lots of different forces pushing and pulling in either direction, and often, the foundation for what is to come. This war between Ukraine and Russia is no different in that regard.
But it is different in the fact that it is happening now. And that matters, both pedagogically and emotionally. We aren’t looking back on the Ukraine invasion with 100 plus years of hindsight. Truthfully speaking … we don’t even know how this particular engagement will end. More importantly people are still dying, still being displaced, and still suffering from the effects of the invasion. So, any conversations about this war will require significantly more sensitivity.
Don’t talk about the people fighting and the civilians escaping as if they are backdrop or side characters from a war that happened 200 years ago. If you are the cool teacher … yes it is way too soon for your jokes.
Don’t pretend to be a foreign policy expert or interject your own armchair analysis into what is a rapidly developing situation.
Don’t imply that this war is different because it takes place in Europe or somewhere “civilized.” Wars have been less common in Europe lately but they certainly aren’t unheard of even in my lifetime, especially not in Eastern Europe and the above mentioned rhetoric paints the non-white victims of other wars and in other places in a less sympathetic light.
We haven’t committed troops to fight directly in this war but kids are seeing, and some cases, feeling the impact of it. It is the place of school to help them process that. But if you aren’t going to do it right then it is probably better to not do it at all.