Posted by Karen Murphy on November 14, 2015

We mourn with the people of France. Friday evening’s events are unimaginable. Parisians were doing the things that people do in a free society, enjoying an evening out with friends and family, having dinner, a drink, a laugh, hearing music, watching a football match. By the end of the night, more than 100 people were murdered, hundreds were injured and thousands more were terrorized. In fact, we all were.

Remaining a free and open society is based on a social contract, that we will live together with respect and in peace. Terrorism disrupts this. It is designed to do just that, making it harder to remain open and inclusive.

Schools need more support than ever, in France and around the world. Their students will be returning to class on Monday with questions, some in fear, some angry and sad, and most terribly confused. We have already read and seen media of interviews with teachers reporting their fears about teaching certain subjects. Classrooms must remain open spaces, places for reflection and questioning, places where students learn to question dogma, where they practice playing, listening, learning and working together with respect and peace, not in spite of their differences, but in light of them.

The news coverage has been appropriately tragic. In the coming days we will continue to learn more about the positive ways that individuals, communities, and countries are responding to simple acts of compassion such as those individuals who invited people into their homes on Friday evening so that they would be out of harm’s way, to civil society organizations who are giving their much needed support. These and other moments are important to share with your students so that they have a better understanding of the range of human choices.

For teachers, the following strategies might be of use:

  • Let your students know that your classroom is a safe space. Begin with acknowledgement. This is not a moment to go straight to the “head” or to cognitive work. Give your students a few moments to reflect, to write some of their feelings and questions. They could then share these with a peer. 
  • If you have not created a classroom contract, this is a good time to do so. It is your social contract, the rules you decide together that keep your classroom safe so that all students can freely participate with respect.
  • Do an activity that is focused on acknowledgment and commemoration. Have students think about the ways that people and events are remembered and memorialized. Give them art supplies--clay or markers and crayons and paper. Allow them to create something from their imaginations. For some students, they might choose to create a poem or a song. You know them by now, give them the opportunity to express themselves. 
  • After they have had some opportunity to process these events affectively, you might help them to begin to wrestle with what happened. Perhaps begin with a K-W-L chart. Help students distinguish myth and misinformation.

This activity will help you to think of other lessons that you need. You might, for example, explore stereotyping and the way that the actions of a group of extremists can be conflated with those of others who have nothing to do with these horrific crimes. We urge you to focus on discussion over debate, or potentially pitting students against each other. Activities such as save the last word for me and learn to listen, listen to learn are particularly useful. It is important that multiple points of view can be heard and respected.  

Topics: Classrooms, Teaching Strategies, International, Students, Paris

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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