On July 27, 2021, four police officers who suffered greatly at the hands of U.S. citizens at the Capitol on January 6 testified before the House Select Committee. Some politicians’ and media personalities’ responses were alarming.
We teachers need to respond. How can we teachers guide students to select good information and make good decisions without being drawn into the political fray?
If you would like to watch the testimony, you can find it here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?513434-1/capitol-dc-police-testify-january-6-attack&live&scrlybrkr=a8d70f1f.
For those who are not in the United States and are reading this (thank you), U.S. citizens converged on our Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. They wanted to stop the certification of the election results that indicated Joe Biden had been elected President. They called it “Stop the Steal.” They felt the presidency had been stolen.
Two hundred two days later, four police officers — Sergeant Gonelle, Officer Fanone, Officer Hodges, and Officer Dunn — testified before a House Select Committee that is investigating the events before, during, and after that event. They shared horrific stories of being beaten, hit with tasers, and ridiculed by those who wanted to get into the Capitol building. The committee members shared body camera video taken that day to support their testimony. Everyone witnessed what happened that day, and heard from the officers the long-term effects of their experiences.
At the very least, you would think people would not deny what happened. There’s incontrovertible video evidence, undeniable truth.
Well, people are denying this event happened in the way we saw it happen on live television. These folks claim these citizens were on a tour, that there was a “lot of love” in the crowd, and that they were peaceful.
The truly horrifying thing is many in the U.S. believe them instead of what they can see and hear for themselves. That brings me to the point of this article: Teachers, let’s unite in support of reality and truth.
How Do Teachers Unite in Support of Reality and Truth Without Being Political?
Reference the Standards
In Pennsylvania, where I live, certain standards reference students’ ability to identify fact versus opinion, propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, bias, etc. The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Standards Aligned System provides not only the standards, but also materials and resources teachers can use to align their instruction. Here are some examples.
Pennsylvania Educational Standard
- CC.1.2.9–10.H Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing the validity of reasoning and relevance of evidence.
Keystone Assessment Anchors
- L.N.2.5 Use appropriate strategies to identify and analyze essential and nonessential information in literary nonfiction.
- L.N.2.5.2 Explain, interpret, describe, and/or analyze the use of facts and opinions in the text.
- L.N.2.5.3 Distinguish essential from nonessential information.
- L.N.2.5.4 Identify, explain, and/or interpret bias and propaganda techniques in nonfictional text.
- L.N.2.5.5 Explain, describe, and/or analyze the effectiveness of bias (explicit and implicit) and propaganda techniques in nonfictional text.
- L.N.2.5.6 Explain, interpret, describe, and/or analyze the author’s defense of a claim to make a point or construct an argument in nonfictional text.
Teach Critical Thinking Skills
Choosing materials and resources aligned to the standards referenced above can help students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate, assess, and determine the validity of the information presented.
Here are some sites I love to visit when I need ideas.
The Power of Three
Once students have the tools to evaluate information, they can apply those new skills with trickier content. The most important aspect of the practice is to read and evaluate various sources. I plan to suggest consuming at least three credible sources on the assigned topic, and searching for varying points of view.
Starting Points for Finding Credible Sources
- Common Sense Education
- Purdue OWL
- UC Merced Guidelines to Reputable News Sources
- Power Library’s High School Research Resources (This site is for Pennsylvanians, but I am sure other states have similar sites.)
- Your Librarian
Communicate and Collaborate
Now it’s time to start thinking about school boards, administrations, and parents. Specifically, which topics are acceptable and which should be avoided?
The uncertainty I feel urges me to get other stakeholders involved at this point. I would present what has been done so far, share the rationale for this important study of language, and get an agreement on the topics students can practice with.
For the sake of argument, let’s say the adults agree to one or more topics. I would then develop a unit to explore those topics using the same skills we practiced with less-controversial topics, as described above.
Hopefully, That Will Be Enough
To stay out of the chasm that has grown among those with conflicting political views makes sense for teachers. We serve students and families from all those groups and need to advocate for each student.
That said, avoiding difficult conversations does not serve them well. Instead, we can rely on parents and other stakeholders to help us. Once we have an agreement on what the students are ready to handle, success is sure to follow.
We can guide students toward credible, reliable, and helpful information, which can come from various perspectives without opening the political Pandora’s Box. I’m sure of it.
We can also guide them toward adopting the critical thinking skills they need to make rational, logical, and beneficial decisions.
Hopefully, that will be enough to combat the misinformation and disinformation that seems rampant in our society today.