Teachers are on the front line in the culture war of January 6

MISSION, Kan. – What students learn about the insurgency on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 may depend on where they live.

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

“I really think we need to talk about it,” said Voldman, who teaches history at Natick High School, 15 miles west of Boston. As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he said “it is 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, a grade eight and ninth social science teacher in an increasingly Republican Iowa suburb of Des Moines, received an email from an administrator last year, warning teachers to be careful of the way they framed the discussion.

“Guess I was, I’m not sure if naive is the appropriate word, perhaps exhausted by pandemic teaching from last year, to understand how controversial this was going to be,” he said. she declared.

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

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

With screaming crowds at school board meetings and political action committees investing millions in races to elect Tory candidates across the country, talking to students about what happened on January 6 is growing. more difficult.

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

Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit that helps teachers get through tough lessons on topics like the Holocaust, offered tips on how to bring up the topic with students in the hours after l ‘riot.

Within 18 hours of posting, it recorded 100,000 pageviews – a level of interest that Abby Weiss, who oversees the development of the association’s educational tools, says it’s unlike anything the group has seen. previously.

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

“The teachers are worried,” she said. “At first glance, if you read the laws, they’re pretty vague and, you know, hard to actually know what’s allowed and what’s not.”

Racial talks are hard to avoid when discussing the riot because white supremacists were among those descending the corridors of power, said Jinnie Spiegler, director of programs and training for the Anti-Defamation League . She said the group feared the insurgency could be used as a recruiting tool and wrote a recently released guide to help teachers and parents tackle these radicalization efforts.

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

Anton Schulzki, chairman of the National Council for Social Studies, said students are often the ones raising racial issues. Last year, it was only moments to discuss what had happened when one of his students at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs said, “You know if those 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’s covered by a contract that offers academic freedom protections and has discussed the riot periodically over the past year.

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

Concerned teachers reached out to the American Federation of Teachers, which last month sued New Hampshire’s new boundaries regarding the discussion of systemic racism and other topics.

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

Paula Davis, a college specials education teacher in a rural district of central Indiana, has biggest fear 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 is extremely important that any teacher who brings up this subject do so from an impartial point of view,” said Davis, chairman of the regional chapter of Moms for Liberty, a group whose members have protested against the mask and vaccine warrants and critical breed theory. “If it can’t be done without bias, then it shouldn’t be.”

But there’s no way Dylan Huisken could avoid the topic in his college class in Missoula, MT, in the town of Bonner. He plans to use the anniversary 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 application in the real world, that civic knowledge is only a futility.”

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