After the tumultuous events yesterday at the Capitol Building, our Middle School teachers, Katrien Vance and Jennifer Page, led a discussion with their students this morning about their thoughts and questions. The class is studying American history this year. They started the year learning about the Constitution, the branches of government, and the Electoral College. On November 2 they hosted an Issues Forum with each student choosing a topic of interest and presenting the positions of three different Presidential candidates. Next up, they will go back to the beginnings of our nation and learn about the Revolutionary War. Katrien and Jennifer have been talking with students throughout the year about current events, including the Black Lives Matter protests in cities across the country, Covid-19 in Science class, environmental issues, and are beginning to look at race in America.
The online gathering began with a poll to see what students knew about the events of January 6th and where they got their information. The poll results are documented in the photographs above. (Throughout the discussion the teachers wove in math, spelling, and history lessons also. The poll data changed as students entered their answers, and they were asked to estimate how many people had responded based on the numbers. They learned when to spell the word as capital vs. capitol, the last time the Capitol Building had been breached – during the War of 1812 by British soldiers – and when and why the 25th Amendment was added – 1967, when, after the Kennedy assassination, Congress wanted to clarify the procedure in the event of the death, resignation, or incapacitation of a sitting President.)
After students shared what they knew of the events, the focus shifted to the perspectives of people present at the Capitol yesterday. Katrien asked students to imagine themselves first as a protestor, then as a Congressperson, and finally as a member of the Capitol Police.
Protestor – “wanted the higher ups to see that they were upset and to make a change on the vote.”
Congressperson – “confused that this no longer felt like a safe place to do law, frightened that people were coming in, frustrated that the vote would have to begin again.”
Capitol Police – “trying to keep people safe and not let this get out of hand.”
These 7th and 8th grade students had questions and observations:
“How did the protestors get in? Did the police open the doors?” (Jennifer shared that the Capitol Police made the decision to open the gates in an attempt to keep things from turning violent.)
“Who was shot and why?” (A female protestor attempting to enter the Chambers was shot by a police officer.)
“Were people actually violent once they entered the building? (Katrien commented that it depends upon one’s definition of violence. People are using different words to describe yesterday’s events – revolution, insurrection, desecration – and that many people are condemning the breach of the Capitol as an attack on the most symbolic building and institution of American government.)
“There is hypocrisy on both sides. Conservatives thought that the BLM protests were wrong, but not the election protests. Democrats called this a riot, but not the BLM protests.”
“What if the protestors had been people of color. Would the police have opened the gates for them?”
“Would the media be covering this differently if it was a black woman who was shot?”
“Is Pence trying to get Trump out of office?” (This was during a discussion of the 25th Amendment. Katrien explained that Pence is mentioned by name since he is the Vice President.)
In conclusion, Katrien reminded students of the James Baldwin quote on a poster in their classroom: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” She said “We are living through unprecedented events, and I hope that it is more interesting to you than scary. I have enormous faith in the processes built into our government. We’ll come back to the events of yesterday as we study the Revolutionary War. I encourage you to keep your ears and minds open, to talk with your parents about events, and to seek out news sources you might not ordinarily listen to, watch, or read.”
As with all of our lessons, NBS teachers want to leave students informed, curious to know more, aware of their own connection to events, and thinking about how they might be part of making the changes they see as necessary in the world.