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Monday, December 5, 2022

Teachers Feel They are Fighting a Culture War with Jan. 6 Education

What kids learn about the January 6th insurgency at the United States Capitol may differ depending on where they reside.

Justin Voldman, a history teacher in a largely Democratic Massachusetts suburb, said his pupils will spend the day blogging about what happened and discussing the fragility of democracy.

“I feel very strongly that this has to be discussed,” said Voldman, a history teacher at Natick High School in Natick, Massachusetts, approximately 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Boston. “It is reasonable to draw comparisons between what happened on Jan. 6 and the development of Nazism,” he stated as the grandson of a Holocaust survivor.

“There are other sections of the nation where… I would be terrified to be a teacher,” Voldman added.

Last year, Liz Wagner, an eighth and ninth grade social studies teacher in an increasingly Republican Iowa suburb, received an email from an administration telling instructors to be careful how they framed the debate.

“I suppose I was so, I don’t know if naive is the right word, fatigued from the entire teaching year last year,” she added, “to comprehend how contentious this was going to be.”

Last year, when Wagner referred to what transpired as an insurgency, some students questioned her. She answered by having them read the meaning of the term from the dictionary. She’ll most likely show kids recordings of the demonstration this year and invite them to write about what they see.

“It’s kind of what I have to do to make sure I don’t upset anyone,” Wagner explained. “I was on the front lines of the COVID battle last year, trying to avoid COVID, and now I’m on the front lines of the cultural war, which I don’t want to be on.”

With raucous audiences at school board meetings and political action organizations pouring millions of dollars into contests to elect conservative candidates around the country, discussing what happened on Jan. 6 with children is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Teachers must now determine how — or if — to educate their pupils about the events at the core of the country’s schism. And depending on whether they are in a red or blue state, the teachings may differ.

In the hours following the incident, Facing History and Ourselves, a charity that assists instructors with challenging lessons on themes like the Holocaust, gave advice on how to approach the issue with pupils.

It received 100,000 page views within 18 hours of publishing, a level of enthusiasm that Abby Weiss, who oversees the creation of the nonprofit’s teaching tools, described as unprecedented.

In the year after, Republican politicians and governors in numerous states have pushed legislation to restrict the teaching of material that examines how race and racism affect American politics, society, and law, according to Weiss.

“Teachers are worried,” she explained. “On the surface, the laws appear to be fairly unclear, and it’s difficult to determine what’s permitted and what isn’t.”

Because white supremacists were among those who descended on the houses of power, racial topics are difficult to ignore while analyzing the riot, according to Jinnie Spiegler, director of curriculum and training for the Anti-Defamation League. She expressed worry that the insurgency may be used as a recruiting tactic, and she prepared a new handbook to assist teachers and parents in combating such efforts.

“It’s problematic for so many reasons to talk about white supremacy, to talk about white supremacist fanatics, to talk about their racist Confederate flag,” Spiegler said.

Students, according to Anton Schulzki, head of the National Council for the Social Studies, are typically the ones who bring up racial concerns. “You know, if those rioters were all Black, they’d all be jailed by now,” one of his honors students at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs stated last year as he was just beginning to explain what had happened.

Three conservative school board candidates have now gained 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 spoken about the riot several times in the past year.

“I believe there will be some instructors who believe the best thing for me to do is ignore this because I don’t want to put myself in peril because I have my own expenses to pay, my own house to maintain, and my own children to get to and from school,” he stated.

Concerned instructors have contacted the American Federation of Teachers, which filed a lawsuit against New Hampshire last month over the state’s new restrictions on the debate of systemic racism and other themes.

“What I’m hearing today is that these regulations that have been enacted in various locations are truly meant to limit the debate of current events,” Randi Weingarten, the union’s president and a former social studies teacher, said. “As we approach closer to January 6th, I’m quite concerned about what that implies in terms of teaching.”

Paula Davis, a middle school special education teacher in a rural central Indiana district, is most concerned that the talk about what happened would be exploited to indoctrinate pupils by instructors with a political purpose. She won’t bring up the date of January 6 in class; instead, she’ll focus on arithmetic and English.

Davis, a regional chapter chair for Moms for Liberty, an organization whose members have criticized mask and vaccination requirements as well as critical race theory, said, “I believe it’s incredibly vital that any teacher who is addressing that issue does so from a neutral standpoint.” “If it can’t be done objectively, it shouldn’t be done.”

Dylan Huisken, a middle school teacher in the Bonner, Montana, region, will not be able to dodge the subject in his lesson. He intends to utilize the occasion to educate his students how to use their voices constructively by writing to legislators, for example.

“To say that the civic principles we educate exist in a vacuum and have no real-world application, that civic knowledge is just trivia,” Huisken added, “is to indicate that the civic ideals we teach exist in a vacuum and have no real-world application.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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