Ellen Clark grew up in a military family and is currently working to complete her undergraduate studies in Toronto.
Remembrance Day ceremonies are solemn, if boring, affairs for elementary and high school students. For most, they provide an excuse to leave the classroom for 45 minutes. But to those intimately connected to the military, these ceremonies take on another purpose: as a ritual that forces them to ruminate on what was, or could potentially be, the worst moments of their lives.
If you have grown up in a military family as I have, you know the pain associated with having someone you care about deployed, and the anxiety of wondering if you will see them again. Remembrance Day ceremonies, with their images of coffins and shattered families, bring these feelings to the forefront. Remember those times, they tell the children. The nights you worried and dreamt of a loved one dying; or worse, the day you found out they were dead. Relive them. Wallow in them. And think of the countless others to whom they happened also.
Now hold in your tears, child. Your friends can’t see you cry.
For a ceremony that is supposed to be a caution against violence, this outcome runs counter to its core message. There are no physical blows present to be sure, but anxiety and grief can be just as painful; especially when you are young and have to bear those emotions alone.
And here some will rightly counter: Is this not the point of Remembrance Day? To remedy that sense of isolation? To bring people together and share in a collective grief?
When it was first introduced, yes. And in ceremonies where all who attend have a personal connection to war and death, then perhaps this is the case.
But in public schools, the ceremony remains only to serve a bureaucratic function; an antiquated tradition for a bygone time that has real, harmful consequences for the very children it is meant to support.
Because presentations of poems and videos illustrating warfare do not aid children in understanding the realities of war; nor, I would argue, is this something we even want to have happen. School children are not capable of processing these kinds of traumatic experiences. We should be thankful, therefore, that most kids shrug off the messages of these ceremonies as soon as they reach the gymnasium door.
But for those children who have lived through their family members leaving for months at a time, or have had someone they love die, the last thing they need is to be reminded of that grief while surrounded by hundreds of their schoolmates. They don’t need to be told by a school administrator how terrible it is to lose a person because of the military; they know. They have imagined it and lived through it. Possibly multiple times.
Modern mandated displays of public grief do not help children, even when conducted under the guise of education. As Lemony Snicket once wrote, “If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly begin to imagine.”
Why must we force our kids to wallow in their grief, then? So we as adults can quote some pretty words and feel better about ourselves? We need to do better and actually support the children we are meant to take care of.
If you are concerned about the lessons of the past being forgotten, fund educational programs and donate to war museums. If it is current children of military families you want to help, give to clubs and programs that bring those children together and provide support for them.
But do not force upon our children the image of those they love dying. School should be a sanctuary from the rest of the world, not a sledgehammer to drive in the pain that already may be prevalent in a student’s life.
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