Our children are watching
The ongoing challenges to the November 3 election outcome culminated Wednesday in an obscene, shameless, abhorrent display of violence that resulted in extremists attacking the U.S. Capitol, a lockdown of legislators who had gathered to certify President-Elect Joe Biden’s and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ Electoral College victory, and the death of at least four extremists and one Capitol police officer. As shock and amazement reverberate around the country and the world, questions ensue and we must be ready to answer these questions with our children:
- How could this type of domestic terrorism happen here — in a country that has long been the model for democracies around the world?
- How could a nation’s democratically-elected leader attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters and overturn a presidential election with repeated, baseless claims of voting irregularities and incite a mob to violence?
- Why was the response from law enforcement so dramatically different in the face of domestic terrorists when we witnessed militant-style policing in recent peaceful protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddy Gray and other Black and Brown people at the hands of police?
These questions will produce answers that are both alarming and infuriating. Destruction of the Capitol is a first in our lifetimes, as the last time the Capitol was breached by a violent mob was by the British during the War of 1812. This “two systems of justice” VP-Elect Harris called out is not a first in the lifetimes of Black people, however. Parents and educators woke up Thursday morning looking for ways to explain this madness to our children, to our students, to ourselves.
- How do we talk to our children about kindness and fairness and grace in the face of this clear non-example?
- How do we talk about truth, justice, equity, and anti-racism when the absence of all those was put on display yesterday?
- How do we teach our students what the democratic process is and what it means, when we have so clearly abandoned its core principles?
- How do we create spaces for young people to ask questions, share concerns, and express their feelings about what has happened?
There is only one path; tell the children (and each other) the truth.
Wednesday’s attacks happened here because we failed to act decisively against the potential for domestic terrorism when it first reared its ugly head (remember Charlottesville?). We failed to challenge and shut down baseless claims of voting irregularities after over 50 court cases rejected them. We failed to stand against people who were willing to put their loyalty to a man above country. We failed to point out how Black-led movements and their allies show what democracy truly is, even when countered with white supremacist backlash. Now, we can act differently and model for our children the importance of never failing in these ways again. There is too much at stake – the soul, democracy, and freedom of this nation and her people.
Below are a number of resources that our team members have shared to support our partner districts across the nation. We’re sharing these with you in the hopes that you can find something here that helps you to deeply care for our children and tell them the truth today (and always) to give them the tools to change the world. And then, we must all act in ways that reflect that truth. Baldwin reminds us, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
From our partners in Youngstown, OH:
- Avoid taking a political stance with scholars, instead, remain objective and frame the discussion in terms of democracy and the democratic process.
- Focus the conversation on student understanding and the scholar’s needs to process their feelings and emotions.
- Talk factually about events of the day and how they unfolded (i.e., role of Congress, events at the Capitol, etc.) and use primary sources that are fact-checked for accuracy.
- Acknowledge that scholars may need time to process and others may need a sense of normalcy and routine to feel safe.
- As always, if you need support in conversations, please contact your administrator for assistance.
Strategies to Consider During Conversations
As you navigate through tough conversations, consider the following strategies:
- Focus on facts, not opinions.
- Think about and practice what you might say.
- Learn mindful communication practices. Try these sentence prompts (adapted by Dr. Dunn from Lee Mun Wah’s work):
- What I think I heard you say was…”
- “When you said _____, it made me feel _____.”
- “I think we may have different ideas about _____ because ________.”
- “Can you help me understand what you meant by ________?”
- “I need your help understanding ________.”
- “Your comment stuck with me because ________.”
- “Can you tell us why you believe _______ is true/not true?”
- Learn and use interrupting phrases like those below to address “in-the-moment” scholars’ comments. Another resource that could be helpful is the Speak Up at School: How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias, and Stereotypes guide from Teaching Tolerance.
- “Please consider the impact of what you are saying.”
- “That’s not funny.”
- “That is not okay with me.”
- “I didn’t realize you think that.”
- “I’m going to stop you there.”
- “Hold on, I need to process what you said.”
- “What you just said is harmful.”
- “We don’t say things like that here.”
From Dr. Alyssa Hadley-Dunn, former HS teacher and current professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University: https://beyondthestoplight.com/2021/01/06/resources-for-teachers-on-the-days-after-the-attack-on-the-u-s-capitol/
For an image compare/contrast activity with older students: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/pictures-from-capitol-vs-2020
Other broader resources to explore:
**It’s important to not come across as having all the answers, but that you can support them in getting support from a counselor or other professional. We as adults can do our best to ask our own questions, seek credible information, and critique what news media we consume and investigate with students.
- Center for Racial Justice in Education huge resource list (RESOURCES FOR TALKING ABOUT RACE, RACISM AND RACIALIZED VIOLENCE WITH KIDS)
- Anti-Defamation League: Race Talk (short, easily accessible)
These are broader practices, but could apply to a conversation about current events.
- ASCD Trauma-informed Teaching Strategies
- Anti-Defamation League (Helping Students Make Sense of News Stories about Bias and Injustice) article with links.
- CommonSense Education lessons on digital citizenship
- News and Media Literacy
- 6.1.20 Headlines.docx vs. 1.6.21 Headlines.docx
- Note: these headlines were pulled from the exact same time across all three outlets.
- The word choice used by various outlets act more as elements of propaganda than informative news reporting. Could be a powerful discussion in inherent bias in media connected to systemic racism and prejudice in society.
By Nataki Gregory, CT3 CEO
CT3 transforms the quality and culture of education for youth, especially those in traditionally disenfranchised communities.