The January 2021 Attack on the Capitol, Where We Are Now, and How We Can Prepare Our Students In a Divided Nation

On January 6th 2021, a mob attacked the U.S Capitol and left the nation puzzled, frightened, angry and shocked. Social studies educators put their lesson plans on pause and addressed the fear and confusion many students experienced.  Civics and social studies education is a topic that has been fresh since the election and everything that’s happened since. There is so much going on in just our nation alone; a pandemic, economic hardship, the fight for social justice, teacher walk-outs, BLM protests, police brutality, our role in the war in Ukraine and countless other things. Our job right now as educators in this divided nation is a hard one.

I found an article that really spoke to all of those hardships and emotions students are facing and how we can help them think critically and try to understand what’s going on in the world. The article, titled “A More Perfect Union: Social Studies Educators Tell How To Get There”,  encourages teachers to instruct students to verify facts, decipher between fact and opinion, and learn about media literacy in a world of false information. The article talks about the importance of not squandering debate, but encouraging healthy and constructive debates in the classroom that build community instead of further dividing us. One skill the article discusses that America desperately needs to teach our youth is learning to listen to one another. The article stresses how education is only part of the solution, not a solution itself:

“We can’t play the blame game of laying it at the feet of education,” Tyson said, “because this is a historical multi-pronged problem that is also rooted in anti-blackness and systemic racism. It’s rooted in the ways people feel disenfranchised and are finding themselves becoming more economically fragile. Two pandemics grip this nation and the world: COVID-19 and racism.”

The article uses this quote to encourage us to teach our students to work together, listen to each other, and have those conversations with our students about civics and social studies to prepare them for the future. We must be open about evaluating sources, thinking critically, discussing our viewpoints, and reaching a consensus of community.

There was a lot from this article I didn’t include so please take the time to read it. It felt very relevant to our predicament as social studies teachers in our world today. What was one big take away from the article that really resided with you? How can we foster community in our classrooms when discussing difficult political and civic topics? How has education failed students in the past and how can we do better?

(PS. I hope everyone had a great weekend! Please forgive me for my late blog post, I had my scheduled days confused. Thank you for understanding and I will see everyone in class!)

6 thoughts on “The January 2021 Attack on the Capitol, Where We Are Now, and How We Can Prepare Our Students In a Divided Nation

  1. Emily,

    Very relevant article! Elementary classes focus so heavily on reading and math that important civics and social studies topics are sometimes overlooked. I found the debate regarding how to teach social studies quite interesting. As the article addresses, often, instead of addressing systemic issues at a deep level, education is held responsible to solve our nations’ problems. In my opinion, this is a band aid, not the answer. Even if we as educators must tread delicately around “divisive” concepts, we can certainly encourage children to think critically and understand that they can analyze the world around them. I think fostering a safe space and encouraging dialogue are great ideas to foster classroom community. In my opinion, we as educators should be honest with students about history and make sure we are allowing students to view history through multiple perspectives.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for this post, Emily! The topic of media literacy is so important here, and I think it’s really the way to guide students through events like the one we saw on January 6. Two researchers who have really shaped my thinking on this subject are Doug Kellner and Jeff Share. I read their book on critical media literacy several years ago, and it convinced me that teaching students how to evaluate media sources should be a core part of the curriculum in K-6. Link to their work here: https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Critical_Media_Literacy_Guide/hTGbDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0

  3. Emily, what a fascinating topic you chose for discussion. I found the article you linked to be very interesting – raising numerous points to discuss. Today, it seems there is no more civil discourse. If my own family is enough of an example, you are either right or wrong and if you are “wrong”, there is anger and frustration that you are on the wrong side. I understand there have been “sides” for years but for some reason lately it seems people have just completely stopped listening. There is no more “agree to disagree”. There is no more debate about ideas. Today you are either right or wrong and it doesn’t seem to matter what the facts are that brought to your side. Reason is out the window. Listening is nonexistent. Respect seems to have vanished. Understanding is lacking. Differences are now seen as sides to argue. Opinions are now delivered as facts even though they are still simply opinions. It’s quite sad really.
    This article sheds some light on the importance of Conflict Resolution and how we might be able to educate others on the importance of listening.

    https://www.theexceptionalskills.com/conflict-resolution-guide/

    Maybe then and only then may we get back to civil discourse and honest and respectful debate.
    -Erika

  4. Hi Emily,

    Thanks for sharing this article, the content is highly relevant, and it is always helpful to have more information on how to talk about such topics (for ourselves and our students). I knew before reading the article that social studies were underrepresented in the classroom; however, I did not realize that many schools simply neglected to teach the subject at all. I know that is such a minor part of the story, but that surprised me as someone who likes social studies.

    Further, I agree that students need to be educated about the history they are living through. However, it is not the sole responsibility of schools. We discuss what topics should be approached in public schools in many other education classes, such as religion and sex ed.; At the same time, war and pandemics aren’t considered taboo; they are controversial and have pretty set sides. As a result, the task should not be put entirely on teachers; however, they (teachers) and the admin should have set guidelines that should be maintained in the classroom to keep best the discourse civil and avoid potential issues.

  5. Emily,

    Thank you for this great post. I found the article to be very informative, and it is an excellent resource for teachers to help them in the classroom when it comes to complex topics. However, I feel like we failed when teaching history in its whole truth. Most, if not all, is very one-sided, and as I have gotten older, I have been getting more exposure to the truthful and whole history that I wish I could have been exposed to earlier. I think we can do better by working on teaching a more accurate history to our students that are still appropriate to each grade level.

  6. Hey Emily!

    Thank you for your blog post. Social studies is a subject that we have to be more careful when teaching. Unlike other subjects, social studies allows students to have their own opinions and think critically about what they have learned and apply it to their own interests and viewpoints. So, when teaching social studies, (besides facts, timelines, and decisions) we don’t teach them how to think. We don’t teach them who to like and what decisions to like or not. We are in the position of giving them the many sides of each story and ask them questions to get them thinking critically so that they can construct their own opinions and attitudes toward society and social studies.

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