Care and Feeding

Not Doing Great With This Home-School Thing

I accidentally taught my kids a racist belief during a history lesson about 9/11. How do I fix this?

A mom and her daughter sitting at a desk with a school lesson. The mom has her head in her hand, the child looks exasperated.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am trying to teach my 6- and 8-year-olds (kindergarten and third grade) at home right now , and it’s not going very well. The 8-year-old’s teacher has been sending him things to do but he blazes through it in an hour flat.

So I started to teach my kids about significant events and then accidentally screwed up big time last week. In trying to teach them about Sept. 11, I unintentionally sprouted the “Muslims = terrorists” seed, which was planted at school and from an unfortunate Islamophobic family friend who we no longer associate with. I have been trying to remedy the situation by teaching them about Muslim culture and traditions (which I don’t know very much about). Still, at the store yesterday, my 6-year-old pointed to a Middle Eastern man with an Islamic-style head covering and shouted, “LOOK, MOM, A TERRORIST!” Luckily the man was very forgiving when I explained the situation and gave him a little money, but I was mortified.

So, what can I do? I want to rid my children of this idea as quickly as possible, but society ingrains it so deeply, and all my kids focus on is “Muslims were the bad people on 9/11!”

—Not Raising Bigots

Dear NRB,

I can’t help but wonder why 9/11, one of the most devastating events to take place in our lifetimes, was on the curriculum for the earliest days of the coronavirus-mandated home schooling. It’s not that you should be shielding your kids from this important part of our nation’s history, but it seems like a bit of horror overload could be possible right about now, no? Also, did you use any materials that were developed to help children understand the events surrounding that day? It’s not a bad idea to look to (non-Islamophobic, of course) sources that can help synthesize that sort of tragedy and the many related issues it brought to the fore in an age-appropriate way.

Explain to your children that Muslims make up almost a quarter of the world’s population—some 1.8 billion people—and that the actions of a small group of terrorists does not reflect on the religion as a whole. Furthermore, you must make it clear why so many people go for a “Muslims are the bad guys” narrative, while the horrors of American chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws, LGBTQ-phobic violence, etc., are often “justified” by some interpretations of the Bible—that is, racism and white supremacy. For far too many of our countrymen, bad Christians are bad individuals, while bad Muslims are the face of Islam.

The last thing kids want (or, perhaps, need) to hear right now is about more tragedy and strife, but it is important that you provide enough context about the prevalence of terrorism and violence throughout the country to make it abundantly clear that it isn’t simply one group of people who are capable of and invested in craven indifference for life. Furthermore, you should also talk to your kids about the harm that Islamophobia has caused, from “mere” discrimination and bias, to bullying, harassment, assault, and even murder. You opened up a difficult can of worms here, but you can’t close it up until you are certain that your kids know enough not to look at someone who is different from them and assume them to be responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans simply because they share the same religion or ethnic background. (And now that COVID-19 has officially killed more Americans than those terror attacks did, you are justified in planting the seed about how the selection of a president who is incapable of properly responding to a pandemic can cause even more devastation that the actions of those who deliberately murdered thousands of people.) Good luck, and please take a break with some cartoons this week.

—Jamilah