After the Rampage at the Capitol, Educators Are Asked To Meet the Moment Once Again

As the terrorist attack on the Capitol unfolded yesterday, educators took to Twitter, considering how to talk to students about the event and the importance of news literacy and civics education.

Educators walked into schools and signed into remote classes this morning to face their students. Already coping with the trauma and disruption of the pandemic, adults and children alike were faced with another tragic, unprecedented moment in American history—a mob, spurred by the President of the United States, stormed the nation's Capitol. At the very least, teachers will be working with students to define insurrection, sedition, and coup.

Teachers, administrators, and students—along with the rest of the country and the world—must deal with the mental and emotional impact of the events and the misinformation and conspiracy theories at the foundation of these riots.

Shana V. White, a middle school teacher in the Atlanta metro area, tweeted, “It’s sad to know that my vocation is partly to blame for today. In most public schools: We don’t accurately teach history. We don’t reward critical thinkers. We don’t teach digital literacy. We don’t teach justice but instead think being kind is better.”

Chris Juarez, principal at Flora Vista Elementary School in Encinitas, CA, said educators had to meet the moment.

“Educators have a massive duty ahead,” he tweeted. “Civic learning matters. Civil discourse matters. The ability to separate fact from fiction matters. Bring those controversial topics into the room. Admins, we need to lift up teachers doing this work - and we HAVE to have their backs.”

Some teachers bristled at being given another responsibility as they, too, are navigating trauma, but there is no denying that education plays a vital role in democracy, particularly at this moment in U.S. history.

The News Literacy Project released a statement Wednesday evening. “The attack on the Congress—and the post-election events leading up to it—underscore the need for robust civics education that gives people a basic understanding of the Constitution and the fundamental principles of democracy," it read. "We call on the new Congress to appropriate funds now to achieve this goal and to protect our democracy. This must include funding for news literacy, which empowers people to discern credible information from misinformation and gives them the tools to be equal, informed and engaged participants in the country’s civic life.

Such an education is essential to bridging the deep partisan divide and alternative realities that have driven our democracy to such a dangerous place.”

Of course, librarians are a vital part of that education.

AASL president Kathy Carroll tweeted, "We as professionals have to be brave in our convictions. We are the curators of accurate unbiased information. Don’t be afraid to have hard conversations or to stand behind truth and facts. Our students are counting on us! #TruthWins #FactsMatter"

Nebraska high school librarian Courtney Pentland reminded teachers to seek out their school librarians for advice and expertise.

"If you are unsure how to approach #disinformation with your students, staff or school community, please remember that #SchoolLibrarians are teachers who have had specific training to provide students & teachers with resources & instruction that supports #InformationLiteracy," she tweeted.

"Please don’t pretend tomorrow is a normal day"

There's the collective impact of yesterday’s mob attack on the Capitol that left four people dead and armed domestic terrorists vandalizing the Capitol building and offices. For Black and brown students, teachers, and administrators, in particular, there is also the injustice represented in the contrasting response of law enforcement to a violent mob of white people to BIPOC protestors of racism, including marches last year following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

As history teacher Matt Neil tweeted last night, “Please don’t pretend tomorrow is a normal day. We need to make sure we support our kids.”

The #sschat Twitter hashtag for social studies and history teachers was full of discussion and sharing of resources on Tuesday night.

Facing History tweeted, “January 6, 2021 is a day for the history books. To all #teachers grappling with how & what to take into class tmrw, we are here to support you. Click to find our latest teaching idea designed to help you address today's violence in the capitol.”

Some teachers planned for their day and curriculum to continue as planned. (One even expressed her relief at teaching English instead of social studies this year at a school in an area where many people believe the rhetoric about the election being stolen.)

But Mary Ellen Daneels, who is on leave from teaching social studies at West Chicago Community High School to run professional development for Illinois teachers as civics instructional specialist for the Robert R. McCormack Foundation, believes every teacher would be responding to the historic moment just in the way they engage with students today.

She tweeted, “BTW- ALL Ts are civic teachers tomorrow. The way we engage Ss voice, the space we make for Ss lived experiences, the norms we employ, the choices we make in content send messages about power, justice & representation. Be an ambassador #sschat friends and help colleagues.”

A private school in New Jersey had called assembly to discuss the events, but most educators were on their own. They went to each other for counsel as the events continued to play out in Washington, D.C.

"I would say follow the kids lead. Answer questions. Show reliable sources. Be vulnerable," wrote a librarian from Georgia.

One said she was turning to the work of Maya Angelou for some lesson support, and Anita Cellucci, a teacher librarian in Westborough, MA, posted to report that she met with her high school student poets to “process, write, and share and discuss.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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