A horrible event happened last week at the Capitol as people stormed the building with the intent of preventing Congress from counting the electoral votes and officially confirming Joe Biden as the next president. I, along with most Americans, watched stunned as the day’s events unfolded. It was an attempted coup to maintain Trump in power; an insurrection against the processes laid out in our Constitution and legal precedence.
Then I watched and listened as hundreds of teachers discussed how to handle this in the classroom the next day. As an online facilitator of high school math, I do not personally have classes in the traditional sense to discuss this with. But the past few days I have read tons of social media posts about teachers being told not to talk about it at all or to remain neutral.
I have grown weary of the call to avoid controversial topics and stay neutral. Silence is compliance. There are many things in history that do not have two equal opposing sides: slavery, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, segregation, etc. There is only one side to these events that is fair, just, and equitable. Educators should help students understand how oppressors justified their actions in history without giving credit to their arguments. Done properly it would be a warning against similar tactics used today.
What happened last week can not and should not be spun as Patriots standing up for their rights. We had a fair election, and these people did not like the results. Their actions place them in the cult of Trump. He has become their leader without questioning. He does not reflect traditional conservative values. He only manipulates his followers for power.
Educators don’t take stock in conspiracy theories. We stand up for truth, justice, and decency. Please do not let students defend positions based on speculation and hearsay. It is our job to present truth to students even if they and their parents don’t want to hear it. We can not necessarily change their hearts and minds, but we can force them to confront the truth. Teachers should interrupt and challenge any student who presents conspiracy theories and false information with questions of its source and legitimacy. We can not allow bigotry, racism, sexism, or any other discrimination in our classroom.
If a classroom already has a culture where students defend opinions with facts from reliable sources, then this is not a huge leap. If teachers do not step up, especially in conservative communities, the myths and lies of white supremacy will continue to perpetuate our society for the following generations. If you don’t stand up for truth, who will?
Here is one list of resources to discuss in the classroom. There are many more available online. Here are some thinking routines that would be helpful for students to process this and similar events. Standing up for truth doesn’t need to be confrontational, but it does require us to consistently speak the truth in love and not give space for fallacies, repeated lies, and discrimination. It is not about sharing your personal political views, but about not giving space for bigoted, unsubstantiated opinions.