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One Year Later, Educators Deciding How to Teach US Capitol Riot


Waukee School District teacher Liz Wagner in her home, Dec. 23, 2021, in Urbandale, Iowa. Teachers have already landed on the front lines of the "culture war." The January 6th incident is no different. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
One Year Later, Educators Deciding How to Teach US Capitol Riot
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Last January, thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump carried out a deadly attack and occupation of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The violence took place as lawmakers were meeting to officially declare Joe Biden, a Democrat, the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

This January, teachers across the United States are deciding how to teach and talk about the attack.

What students learn may depend on where they live.

In an area outside Boston, Massachusetts, history teacher Justin Voldman said his students will spend the day of January 6th writing about what happened and talking about how a democracy can be easily damaged.

Voldman said he feels lucky to teach in a state where most people are Democrats. “There are other parts of the country where ... I would be scared to be a teacher,” he said.

Liz Wagner is a social studies teacher near Des Moines, Iowa. The state increasingly votes Republican in local and national elections. She got an email from an administrator last year, warning teachers to be careful in how they present the discussion of the violence.

Some of Wagner's students questioned her last year when she described what happened on January 6th as an insurrection. She answered by having the students read the dictionary definition for the word. This year, she said she will probably show students videos of the protest and ask them to write about what the images show.

“This is kind of what I have to do to ensure that I’m not upsetting anybody,” Wagner said.

Talking about what happened on January 6th is increasingly difficult for teachers. They must decide how — or whether — to educate their students about the event. And the lessons sometimes depend on whether they are in a state that is majority Democratic or majority Republican.

Facing History and Ourselves is a nonprofit group that helps teachers with difficult lessons on subjects such as the Holocaust. Immediately after last year’s riot, it offered suggestions on how to talk about the event with students.

Abby Weiss oversees the development of the group’s teaching tools.

In the year since the attack, she said, Republican lawmakers in some states have pushed for legislation to limit the teaching of material that explores how race and racism influence American politics, culture and law.

Racial discussions are hard to avoid when talking about the riot; white supremacists were among those who broke into the Captiol building.

Anton Schulzki is president of the National Council for the Social Studies. He is also a teacher in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He said students are often the ones bringing up racial issues during his lessons.

Last year, he had just begun discussing the riot when one of his students said, “’You know, if those rioters were all Black, they’d all be arrested by now.”

Paula Davis is a middle school teacher in rural Indiana. She is also an area leader for Moms for Liberty, a group whose members have protested face coverings and vaccine requirements in recent months. She mostly teaches math and English and does not plan to discuss January 6th in her classroom.

But she said for teachers who do teach about the event, it is important not to show any bias. Bias is a tendency to believe that some people or ideas are better than others. It usually results in treating some people unfairly.

“If it cannot be done without bias,” Davis said of the lessons, “then it should not be done.”

There is no way middle school teacher Dylan Huisken will avoid the issue in his classroom in Bonner, Montana. He said he plans to use the anniversary to teach his students to use their voice by doing things like writing to lawmakers.

He added that not teaching about the attack suggests to students that the “civic ideals we teach…don’t have any real-world application.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

dictionary - n. a reference book that contains words listed in alphabetical order and that gives information about the words' meanings, forms, pronunciations, etc...

ensure - v. to make (something) sure, certain, or safe

tendency - n. a quality that makes something likely to happen or that makes someone likely to think or behave in a particular way

ideal - n. an idea or standard of perfection or excellence

white supremacist - n. a person who believes that the white race is better than all other races and should have control over all other races

application - n. the use of an idea, method, law, etc., in a particular situation or for a particular purpose

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