Capitol insurrection: Teachers nationwide grapple with topic as anniversary nears

MISSION, Kan. (AP) – What students learn about the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6 may depend on where they live.

In a heavily Democratic suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, history teacher Justin Voldman said his students would spend the day recording what happened and talking about the fragility of democracy.

“I really believe this needs to be talked about,” said Voldman, who teaches history at Natick High School, 15 miles west of Boston. As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he said “it’s fair to draw parallels between what happened on January 6 and the rise of fascism.”

Voldman said he felt lucky: “There are other parts of the country where … I would be afraid to be a teacher.”

Liz Wagner, an eighth- and ninth-grade social studies teacher in an increasingly Republican suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, received an email from an administrator last year warning teachers to do Pay attention to how they frame the discussion.

“I guess I was so, I don’t know if naive is the right word, maybe exhausted from the pandemic teaching year last year, to realize how controversial this was going to be,” said- she declared.

Some students questioned Wagner last year when she called what happened an insurrection. She responded by having them read the dictionary definition for the word. This year, she will likely show the students videos of the protest and ask them to write about what the footage shows.

“It’s kind of what I have to do to make sure I don’t bother anybody,” Wagner said. “Last year I was on the front lines of the COVID war, trying to dodge COVID, and now I’m on the front lines of the culture war, and I don’t want to be there.”

With crowds shouting at school board meetings and political action committees invest millions in races to elect Conservative candidates across the country, talking to students about what happened on Jan. 6 is increasingly difficult.

Teachers must now decide how – or if – to inform their students of the events that are at the heart of the country’s division. And the lessons sometimes vary depending on whether they are in a red state or a blue state.

Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit that helps teachers with difficult lessons on subjects like the Holocaust, offered tips for broaching the subject with students in the hours following the riot.

Within 18 hours of posting, it had 100,000 page views — a level of interest that Abby Weiss, who oversees the development of the nonprofit’s educational tools, says is unlike anything the group has seen before.

In the year since, Weiss said, Republican lawmakers and governors in many states championed legislation to limit the teaching of material exploring the influence of race and racism on politics, culture and American law.

“Teachers are anxious,” she says. “On the face of it, if you read the laws, they’re pretty vague and, you know, hard to really know what’s allowed and what’s not.”

Racial discussions are hard to avoid when discussing the riot because white supremacists were among those descending the halls of power, said Jinnie Spiegler, director of program and training for the Anti-Defamation League. She said the group feared the insurgency could be used as a recruiting tool and wrote a newly published guide to help teachers and parents fight against these radicalization efforts.

“Talking about white supremacy, talking about white supremacist extremists, talking about their racist Confederate flag, it’s heavy for so many reasons,” Spiegler said.

Anton Schulzki, president of the National Council for Social Studies, said students are often the ones raising racial issues. Last year, he was moments away from discussing what happened when one of his students at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs said, “‘You know, if these rioters were all black, they would all be arrested by now. ”

Since then, three conservative school board candidates have won seats on the school board where Schulzki teaches, and the district has disbanded its equity leadership team. He is covered by a contract that offers academic freedom protections and has discussed rioting periodically over the past year.

“I think,” he said, “there might be teachers who will think the best thing for me to do is ignore this because I don’t want to put myself in danger because I I have my own bills to pay, my own house to take care of, my own children to take to school.

Concerned teachers contacted the American Federation of Teachers, which last month sued over new Hampshire boundaries on discussing systemic racism and other topics.

“What I hear now over and over again is that these laws that have been passed in different places are really meant to chill the discussion about current events,” said Randi Weingarten, union president and former studies professor. social. “I’m very concerned about what this means in terms of teaching as we get ever closer to January 6.”

The biggest fear of Paula Davis, a middle school special education teacher in a rural district in central Indiana, is that the discussion of what happened could be used by teachers with a political agenda to indoctrinate students. . She will not discuss January 6 in her class; she focuses on math and English.

“I think it’s extremely important that any teacher who approaches this subject do so from an unbiased perspective,” said Davis, president of the regional chapter of Moms for Liberty, a group whose members have protested mask and vaccine mandates and critical race theory. “If it can’t be done without bias, then it shouldn’t be done.”

But there’s no way Dylan Huisken is avoiding the subject in his middle school class in the Missoula, Montana, town of Bonner. He plans to use the birthday to teach his students to use their voices constructively by doing things like writing to lawmakers.

“To not address the attack,” Huisken said, “is to suggest that the civic ideals we teach exist in a vacuum and have no real-world application, that civic knowledge is just trivia. “

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