Michelle Obama’s Letter to Parents

In the wake of the attempted assassination of Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, many have asked what drives a person to open fire on a peacefully assembled crowd and what something like this says about the United States.  For children these questions can be particularly confusing and difficult.  To help cope, first lady Michelle Obama released an open letter to parents across the United States yesterday offering ways to talk to children about the heartbreaking events in Arizona and lessons we can all take away from the tragedy. 

“In the days and weeks ahead, as we struggle with these issues ourselves, many of us will find that our children are struggling with them as well.  The questions my daughters have asked are the same ones that many of your children will have – and they don’t lend themselves to easy answers.  But they will provide an opportunity for us as parents to teach some valuable lessons – about the character of our country, about the values we hold dear, and about finding hope at a time when it seems far away.

“We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace each other, and support each other, in times of crisis.  And we can help them do that in their own small way – whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or just keeping the victims and their families in their thoughts.

“We can teach them the value of tolerance – the practice of assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around us.  We can teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they disagree. 

“We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families.  We can explain to them that although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it.” 

Read the full letter.

Democracy Through the Eyes of a Child

As the mother of a primary school student, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the death of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green at a political event in Tucson, Arizona. Christina was only a year older than my son, but unlike him, she had already taken a strong interest in how democracy works.

In remarks memorializing the victims of the January 8 shootings, President Obama described Christina as “a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that some day she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future.” Christina had been elected to her student council and saw public service “as something exciting and hopeful,” he said; she had been at Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event, where she was shot, to meet the congresswoman — someone she thought might be a role model.

Hearing about some of the things Christina did in her short life has given me food for thought. I don’t remember caring about political issues when I was Christina’s age, and I haven’t seen any such interest in my son, despite occasional events to engage him. Last October, for example, when my husband and I took our son to Comedy Central’s humorous yet politically themed “Rally to Restore Sanity” (jokingly billed as the “March of a Million Moderates”) my son occupied himself throughout the event by eating snacks and playing with a hand-held gaming system.

At the time, I figured that my son was too young to understand the significance of or care about what was going on. But now, hearing about Christina, I’m not so sure.

My son has been learning about elections, the Constitution and other civic issues in school, but perhaps my husband and I should do more to reinforce those lessons at home. Perhaps I should try harder to engage my son’s interest in local and national issues; perhaps I should even try to spark some activism. I know children my son’s age have been involved in petitions, for example, and my son and I have had discussions about slavery. Are there other good ways to teach the next generation about democracy?

A Nation in Mourning

President Obama addressed a crowded stadium of mourners at the University of Arizona last night during a memorial ceremony for the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, Arizona.  Obama eulogized the six victims who lost their lives when a gunman open fired at an event in a grocery store parking lot in an alleged attempt to assassinate U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  He also shared the hopeful news that, after surviving a point-blank gunshot wound to the head, Congresswoman Giffords had just opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.  Continue reading