How to turn D.C. riot into a learning opportunity

'What we saw the other day was not a situation of true protest' superintendent says
By: | January 11, 2021
Many districts are quickly collecting resources to help teachers discuss the riot in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6. (GettyImages/RichVintage)Many districts are quickly collecting resources to help teachers discuss the riot in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6. (GettyImages/RichVintage)

The attack on Congress by pro-Trump rioters offers superintendents an opportunity to encourage and empower students to express their own voices more productively.

Four candidates for the AASA’s 2021 superintendent of the year award described the violence as an important teachable moment during a webinar hosted by The School Superintendents Association’ Friday.

The storming of the Capitol building was “an eye-opener as well as a black eye for the United States of America,” said Khalid Mumin, superintendent of the Reading School District in Pennsylvania.

“We know young people are extremely active in voicing their opinions,” Mumin said. “What we saw the other day was not a situation of true protest. We have to cultivate this into a learning experience about what not to do when you’re empowered to protest.”

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Educators can prevent future political violence by preparing confident students who know how to advocate for change in the right way, Mumin said.

Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Northshore School District near Seattle, said she was troubled to learn that members of color on her leadership team were not as shocked by events of Jan. 6.

They told her that the type of right-wing violence that occurred has been years in the making.

In the coming weeks, therefore, educators will have to provide emotional support to students who fear the violence could spread, Reid said.

“This is a time to think about the readiness to make a serious change as we dismantle systemic barriers to racial and educational equity,” she said. “Equity is within our purview, and it’s going to take every ounce of energy we have.”

Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon has a large population of refugee students who have witnessed similar violence in their home countries, and Superintendent Christy Perry said she worried about these children being retraumatized.

She said she is also concerned that her staff may have to contend with community members who did not see the storming of the Capitoal as a threat to democracy.

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“For us, it’s building knowledge, will and skill of leaders to interpret systems of oppression,” Perry said. “It’s our job right now to protect our educators to have the right conversations in our classrooms.”

Counselors at Hamilton County Schools, which is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, spent the night of the Capitol riot pulling together resources to help teachers discuss the violence, Superintendent Bryan Johnson said.

“We’re in a moment in publ education to lean into to make sure our students really learn what civility is, how this was wrong, how are American and we are better than this,” Johnson said.