How teachers approach classroom conflict in middle and high school

“What are the intentions of Vladimir Putin? “,” Will there be a world war? ”, “What is the role of NATO? » … These are some of the questions middle and high school students have been asking their teachers since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Because French students need guidance in the face of an alarming international context. If History-Geo teachers are in the front row to answer their questions, then teachers of other subjects also ask their students questions.

Sometimes the teachers themselves take the lead, as explained 20 minutes Thomas Gathier, professor of history and geography at the College of Villeurbanne (Rhone): “I took the initiative to talk about this with students of the 6th and 3rd years, because I knew that the conflict put them in doubt. I didn’t think they were too young because they are so connected and a lot of information comes to them. Some even know the name of Russian weapons and missiles! They need to be helped to understand the geopolitical context. “Thibaut, a high school philosophy teacher, was also active: “I felt like they were tense for days. So I spent 2 hours on the course so they could ask all sorts of questions about anonymous articles that I read aloud. And I tried to rationalize the situation a little. “Christine Guimonnet, professor of history-geography at Pontoise (Val-d’Oise), also decided to talk about the war with all her classes: “I started with the 1st. I asked a Russian teacher to accompany me to answer students’ questions, and they were shown an episode of the geopolitical magazine Arte. Underside of cards “.

“They are worried about the specter of World War III”

The concern of the students is all the more acute because in recent years they have experienced a particularly disturbing period, Thibaut deciphers: “They are coming out of Covid-19, which they“ ate ”in full force. Not to mention inflation, ecological crisis… And the declaration of war in Europe put an end to the hopes of many. They worry about the Ukrainians there, but it’s also because of the specter of World War III and the nuclear bomb that worries them. It is the fear of seeing the testimonies of previous generations come true that they study in the history books. They wonder how they can project themselves into such an unstable world. »

In addition to the Q&A sessions, some teachers used the school curriculum to discuss the war in Ukraine, such as Thomas: “In 3rd grade, they study the Cold War. This allowed me to draw parallels with the current conflict. We also talked about the birth of the UN, the building of the European Union. With her first-year students majoring in History-Geography, Christine Guimonnet used what she had already seen with them in the classroom: “We have come to Russia, to the borders, to the great powers. The fact of the remobilization of the concepts we learned made them understand that this war was not an isolated event,” she says. Sophie, a high school history and geography teacher, chose to rely on collaborative work: “Students asked for information to be deciphered. I asked them to create mental maps in groups of two to four students, thinking about different topics together in advance: where, who, how, why, the consequences of the conflict … They were very responsive and interested. The adjustment also made it possible to reflect on the status of refugees and migration flows, to emphasize that we do not treat migrants in the same way depending on the country from which they came. “.

“Paradoxically, they either feel uninformed or feel very bad.”

Some teachers also sought to build bridges with their subject. Like Thiebaud: “We had to re-explain the origins of the conflict, NATO… This allowed students to understand the interest of some of the passages studied in philosophy: attitudes towards relativism, war, selfishness, rhetoric, politics, the difference between dictatorship and democracy. All this required a very specific illustration. And they realized that it was necessary to stigmatize not Russia, but Putin.”

Talking about the Ukrainian conflict is also an opportunity to focus on media literacy, as Thomas did with his sixth graders: “I started with an example of TikTok videos that looked like Ukrainians were asking them for money. I showed them that it was fake news because the video was always the same, albeit from different accounts. This allowed me to give them advice so that they would be more critical when confronted with images.” And even though he’s a philosophy teacher, Thibaut also touched on the subject: “It’s paradoxical that they feel ignorant or very bad,” he insists. “Whether they are in their second, first or final year, they need help to make sense of what they hear or read. I gave them topography on reliable media,” says Christine Guimonnet. And in order to fix in the minds of her students “that one should not confuse the people and their leader,” the teacher planned to bring her students to the exhibition of the Morozov collection at the Vuitton Foundation. “We are not going to deprive ourselves of Russian culture,” she insists.

“I tried to stay optimistic”

Some of the lessons also made the students think about what they can do for Ukrainians: “It allowed the calls for donations and hospitality to be relayed across our community of municipalities,” Sophie says. After all, helping the students understand the war seemed to put them at ease a bit. “As for the nuclear threat to France, I told them that at the time we were talking, there was no direct risk to our country. And I encouraged them to talk about the war with their parents. Moreover, the fact of the historicization of the conflict makes it possible to make the information impartial,” says Thomas.

“I tried to remain optimistic, saying that we live in a relatively peaceful world and that conflicts are increasingly localized. That the use of a nuclear bomb is not a means to defeat the enemy, but a sign of desperation,” Antoine also testifies. Christine Guimonnet also had the impression that she reassured them a little: “But I remained very honest, insisting that I could not make a forecast for 15 days,” she emphasizes. And the teachers already know that they are not ready to close the chapter…

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