What students learn about the insurgency at the United States Capitol on January 6 may vary depending on where they live.
Justin Voldman, a history teacher in a Boston suburb in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, said his students will spend the day journaling about what happened and discussing the fragility of democracy.
“I feel very strongly that this needs to be discussed,” said Voldman, a history teacher at Natick High School in Natick, Massachusetts, about 15 miles west of Boston. As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he believes “it is reasonable to draw parallels between what happened on January 6 and the rise of fascism.”
Liz Wagner, an eighth and ninth grade social studies teacher in a Des Moines suburb of increasingly Republican Iowa, received an email from an administrator last year warning teachers to be cautious in how they framed the debate.
“I guess I was too, I don’t know if naive is the right word, exhausted from the pandemic teaching year last year, to realize how contentious this was going to be,” she explained.
Last year, some students questioned Wagner’s use of the term “insurgency” to describe what happened. She responded by having them read the definition of the word from the dictionary. This year, she will most likely show students protest videos and ask them to write about what they see.
With crowds yelling at school board meetings and political action committees pouring millions of dollars into races to elect conservative candidates across the country, discussing what happened on Jan. 6 is becoming increasingly dangerous.
Teachers must now decide how — or whether — to educate their students about the events at the heart of the country’s division. And the lessons can differ depending on whether they are in a red or blue state.
In the hours following the riot, Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit that assists teachers with difficult lessons on subjects such as the Holocaust, provided advice on how to approach the subject with students.
It received 100,000 page views within 18 hours of publication — a level of interest that Abby Weiss, who oversees the development of the nonprofit’s teaching tools, said was unlike anything the group has seen before.
In the year since, Republican lawmakers and governors in many states, according to Weiss, have championed legislation to limit the teaching of material that examines how race and racism influence American politics, culture, and law.
Racial discussions are difficult to avoid when discussing the riot because white supremacists were among those storming the halls of power, according to Jinnie Spiegler, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of curriculum and training. She stated that the group is concerned that the insurgency will be used as a recruiting tool, and she wrote a newly released guide to assist teachers and parents in combating such radicalization efforts.
According to Anton Schulzki, president of the National Council for the Social Studies, students are frequently the ones who bring up racial issues. Last year, he was just getting started talking about what happened when one of his honors students at Colorado Springs’ William J. Palmer High School said, “You know, if those rioters were all Black, they’d 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’s equity leadership team has been disbanded. He is covered by a contract that guarantees academic freedom, and he has discussed the riot on a regular basis over the past year.
Concerned teachers have contacted the American Federation of Teachers, which filed a lawsuit last month against New Hampshire’s new restrictions on the discussion of systemic racism and other topics.
The biggest concern for Paula Davis, a middle school special education teacher in a rural central Indiana district, is that the discussion about what happened will be used to indoctrinate students by teachers with a political agenda. She will not discuss January 6 in her classroom; her primary focus is on math and English.
Dylan Huisken, a middle school teacher in the Missoula, Montana, suburb of Bonner, will not be able to avoid the subject. He intends to use the anniversary to teach his students how to use their voices constructively, such as by writing to legislators.