How North Carolina Educators Will Teach Capitol Riots in History Class
In the days following January 6, Jamie Fernandez-Schendt knew his students at Carrboro High School would be waiting for an explanation.
His students had seen enraged American citizens descend on the United States Capitol to forcefully stop what they saw as a stolen election. The bloody and chaotic scene was eerily similar to the coups they had heard about in their class on the PA’s comparative government.
âI think they were obviously shocked,â Fernandez-Schendt said. âBecause even in our own class before that, it was really hard to understand that something that we had learned in another country could take place in ours. “
Fernandez-Schendt said he was able to discuss the insurgency without fear of repercussions or backlash from community members. But he teaches in Carrboro, a predominantly progressive community – and he knows many educators across the state don’t.
As the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol uprising approaches, teachers in North Carolina are struggling to place the event in the narrative of American history. And they navigate the task of teaching their students about this historic event while protecting themselves from criticism or hostility from parents and community members.
Their concern to teach insurgency is not unfounded. In North Carolina, there has been more than one occasion where teachers have been criticized for bringing controversial topics into the classroom.
In 2015, third-grade teacher Omar Currie was the subject of an unstable community debate when he read a fairy tale called ‘King and King’ to his students in Efland.
The book, which told the story of a prince who found his prince charming, was intended to teach his students about same-sex marriage. Several parents have been outraged by the idea of ââtheir children discussing LGBTQ relationships or issues at school.
Most recently, in September, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina passed a bill that would limit how teachers can discuss racial concepts in the classroom. Although Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, communities across the state have staged rallies in support of the legislation. Some county school boards have even introduced their own anti-criticism policies on racial theory.
Define what happened
Brian Gibbs, a professor at the UNC School of Education, said the controversy over teaching the insurgency can start at the most basic level – even simply labeling and defining what exactly happened.
âLet’s look historically at other incidents that are similar to this one, which have been called different things,â he said. âAnd let’s fight through this definition on what we mean by a demonstration, a riot, an uprising, a rebellion, a massacre. And then we get Jan 6th, let’s look at the insurgency. What do we mean by that? “
Gibbs said these labels place different people as perpetrators or victims of the event, and that is subject to debate.
Tamika Walker-Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said it’s a teacher’s job to present information as objectively as possible. She said teaching from common ground – neither praise nor condemnation of the insurgency – can help teachers avoid backlash from community members or parents.
âIt means pulling out a variety of sources or making sure that we also let our students know that this topic is not resolved,â she said. “It evolves.”
But Gibbs said that while presenting facts to students might be the safest option for a teacher in terms of protecting their own reputation, there is a danger in leaving the insurgency to interpretation.
He said the insurgents are already starting to label themselves as social and political activists. They started to reclaim the language of the civil rights movement and pretend they were just fighting for their rights.
“I think there is another danger around the idea that students might infer that the insurgents were fair, that they were right, that they were justice-oriented in terms of how they went about it. “, did he declare.
Present the facts
Randy Dunbar, an American history professor from Kernersville, Forsyth County, tried to teach the insurgency from the most objective position possible. Dunbar said he knew there were several participants in the uprising in the county in which he teaches.
Rather than ascribing a morality to what happened on January 6, Dunbar asks students to look at footage of the event and draw their own conclusions.
âI’m trying to teach them to look at things and check them out,â Dunbar said. âAnd I gave them websites that they can go to and check the facts. I tell them, you know, don’t necessarily believe everything you see.
Luke Hoilman teaches civics education in Spruce Pine, western North Carolina. He said Mitchell County was largely conservative and took a similar approach to Dunbar’s in presenting facts and letting students draw their own conclusions.
Hoilman said he was confident his students could recognize the negative impact of the riot, even if they were not explicitly made aware of the danger of what happened. He said he didn’t believe many of his students, even the most ardent supporters of the Trump presidency, would come to the conclusion that the insurgents were acting out of patriotism.
âI don’t think they would necessarily make that correlation, at least most kids wouldn’t,â he said. “So I don’t think it’s dangerous to talk about it.”
Walker-Kelly said the general mistrust of social science teachers has created a culture of fear among educators. She said if a teacher was constantly worried about being criticized for what they said in class, they couldn’t provide their best teaching.
âIf I question my professional expertise on the things you need to know then you won’t get the best education you need,â she said. “Or you’re not going to be exposed to the things you need to know in order to be a thoughtful global citizen in our community.”
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