From the Blog

January 6, 2021: A Growth Obligation

by David Ruff 

Architect of the Capitol.
Image by Architect of the Capitol

Last week a violent insurrection attempted to stop the final step to officially confirm Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next President and Vice President of the United States. The videos, pictures, and commentary from the attack are highly disturbing and troubling for most Americans, and I am grateful our representatives in Congress returned to their chambers and finished this work.

This event cannot be seen as an aberration for America but more of a continuation of the racial and economic divide that has separated our country since its founding. It is not a singular event, but maybe it can be a turning point.

As educators, we are forced to walk a very difficult political line that constantly challenges what should be taught, how, and to whom. Not surprisingly, as calls for accountability have increased—everything from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—our curriculum has become more narrowly focused, and the ability of teachers to engage students in deep reflection, thinking, and response to such actions as were seen in Washington D.C. last week have been pushed further away from the learning currently taking place in our schools.

It’s time to change this trajectory.

A great many resources have already been shared to help teachers work with students to process the events of last Wednesday. Regardless of your political affiliation, resources are available to support honest, open, and truthful learning for students. It is an opportunity to talk about perspective, commitment, and ideas. But it’s also time for us to widen the scope of the narrow discussion about insurrection; we must also explore, reflect, and honestly talk about the culture of racism and denial that permeates our country. We can’t just talk about what is happening; we also must examine why it happens.

How to Explore, Reflect, and Talk Honestly

  • As educators and parents, we need to recognize that the violence seen last week is not a solution and we need to understand how states and the federal government have historically used violence to deny voting rights for Americans of color.

  • As educators and parents, we need to talk about the millions of white Americans who feel disenfranchised by the current political parties of our country, and we need to recognize and understand that America has disenfranchised families of color since white Europeans first landed in the New World.

  • As educators and parents, we need to talk about the need to use our courts and systems of law to bring leaders of this insurrection to justice, and we need to admit that these same courts and laws have routinely limited the basic human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for people of color in this country.

  • As educators and parents, we need to talk about the intricacies of the impeachment process, and we need to expose the continued normalization of racist ideas and actions by so many legislative and financial leaders.
  • As educators and parents, we need to applaud the bravery of many officers looking to defend the Capitol, and we need to recognize the reality of years of police brutality.

  • As educators and parents, we need to acknowledge a growing recognition of racism by many leaders, and we need to honor the years and years of bravery demonstrated by people of color and white allies working for the rights of all people.

  • As educators and parents, we need to appreciate the efforts of federal legislators to return to their work and see it through, and we need to unpack the financial and voting systems that have encouraged our leaders to sidestep difficult situations and make up excuses for continued inequity—and to be clear, not just in the last four years.

  • As educators and parents, we need to expose the blatant lies that have been told about widespread fraud in the election process, and we need to expose our cultural willingness to cover up lies and enable people of power and means to continue to act with impunity and without accountability.
A Last Thought

I fear in the coming weeks, months, and years the events of last week in Washington, D.C., will be seen as an isolated event, rather than the result of ongoing cultural acceptance of inequity. We need to admit and set aside our emotional and political concerns to explore these realities in our classrooms. Talking with our students and children about the historical reality of America is not an opportunity but an obligation. And maybe, last week can help us all start to have an honest—and eventually, healing—conversation about racism and privilege in America.