How Do Educators Teach About the Recent US Capital Events? Listen to the Students
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
The events of January 6 were shocking to many US citizens. How could a mob march to the US Capital where Congress was doing its constitutional duty to confirm the election of President-elect Joe Biden?
One of my first thoughts was how do educators talk to their students about this, especially the ACE Learning Center students at schools that serve a high percentage of immigrant students? Didn’t many of these immigrant students come to the US to escape these kinds of actions from their countries? What do they think now?
I reached out to the education experts at Oakland International High School (OIHS) and San Francisco International High School (SFIHS) and was rewarded with hearing about the amazing faith both students and educators had in the US system and how quickly best practices were developed and implemented in the virtual classrooms.
“Throughout the district, principals and teachers struggled to make meaning of the events for themselves, but rapidly had to turn to the work of helping students understand what took place,” said Carmelita Reyes, Founding Principal of OIHS. “Educators leaned on one another and shared resources and strategies that were age appropriate. This will not be a one-day lesson. The events and consequences of (that) week will reverberate throughout our nation for a long time.”
While appropriate best practices were used in classes, what was great to see was the attitude of the students whose faith in their chosen country, the US, was unshaken.
“SFIHS teachers reported that most students already had the understanding that . . . people tried to attack the capital to try to overturn a free and fair election,” said Tara Hobson, Principal at SFIHS. “Although January 6th was a dark day, our future as a nation looks bright because our students are brilliant and aware and have a strong sense of reality and faith in our country.”
Lauren Markham, Director of the OIHS Learning Lab, said the educators at OIHS had much of the same experience.
“While the siege of the capitol left some U.S. Americans shocked and many outraged, it’s important to note that for people who have already experienced severe repression both here and abroad, the events of last Wednesday . . . may not have come as such a surprise,” said Markham. “In light of this, we want to make sure that our staff function as sounding boards for students concerns and as sources of information, calm and understanding, letting our students take the lead on what they want to discuss and how.”
Rachel Sadler, 12th Grade Government teacher at SFIHS had a similar experience.
“The insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6th horrified my students, but it did not necessarily surprise them,” said Sadler. “Their main questions seemed to be around accountability and justice, which they know is so often and easily denied. Many wondered whether the perpetrators of these riots would be held accountable and go to jail.”
For a lot of students, it was a callout for creating community and staying strong to fight against hate. SFIHS 12th Grade student Elisa Aguilar Cinto echoed many student’s call for community.
“We need to support each other and not let hate spread in our society and not have people believe something that is not true,” said Cinto. “I noticed that (the event at the US Capital) is just creating violence instead of creating peace in our community. However, a community can move forward by supporting each other and that’s why we all are here in this world to work together; love each other; to build a community without violence or discrimination against other. Honestly, we all are the same creation of God and there shouldn’t be hate amongst the American nation.”
This is focus on community and future by the new generation of well-educated and inspired immigrant students is heartening.
“I feel grateful and encouraged that so many of my students are able to name the concerns that arise from racist policing and white privilege in our country, and to expect and demand more of our government,” said Sadler. “I feel hopeful for a future where these same students will become activists and decision-makers influencing how the United States must change. We are all going to be very lucky to live in the world they help create.”
Yes, we are. Thank you OIHS and SFIHS students and educators for your courage and community.