Child watching US Capitol Violence on iPad

Could you imagine teaching a class of students during a pandemic while significant events in our nation’s history are unfolding in real time for the world to see? Schools across the High Desert have been dramatically impacted from COVID-19 and as a result, may soon need to implement and modify in-person instruction as well as policies moving forward, when that becomes a reality once again.

One of the things that school districts have relied on in this new age of teaching is technology, which includes digital and social media. However, with that comes all the things a student could have access to such as current events.

So what do you do when protesters march on the U.S. Congress in real time and force themselves past police and into the chambers of The U.S. Capitol to disturb the peace? It’s safe to assume that TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram and Facebook Live profiles are displaying these very events as they unfold. How do you explain to students that as a result of the words spoken by the United States President moments earlier, thousands of people were encouraged to storm the capitol to make a point?

It’s a pretty tough position to be in and often times students look to teachers as their first introduction into leadership for answers. HD Daily News spoke to a collection of educators throughout the Victor Valley to get there take on how a conversation is addressed with a younger audience. The last time an impactful moment like this took place it was September 11th and the young audience were millennials. There was no social media, but there were teachers and educators who allowed a conversation to take place in classrooms across the country.

When asking local teachers of today in the High Desert how to handle such a sensitive conversation with students, the response was almost uniform in allowing children to have a safe space to discuss their observations and express feelings.

One 11th Grade ELA teacher told HD Daily News: “The topic that came up most often in the room I was moderating was race, one of my students claim was this [situation] clearly shows the hypocrisy of white privilege in America."

Another 11th Grade ELA teacher tried a one worded response from students: “I opened the class by asking what happened yesterday and had [students] put a single word in the chat that identify their emotions. You were free to put it in a private chat to me and I just read off all of the emotions being listed without attributing them. Then we did a quick slideshow about the facts of the situation and talked about whether it was justified to call it insurrection, sedition, or oh cool based strictly on definitions of those words. Then we talked about what claims the protesters were making and whether they were supported with evidence. We watched a PBS short video about [January 6th] incidents and discussed how to get unbiased, reliable information from media.”

Some teachers however appeared timid with the conversation and felt it had no place for discussion. One account of this was a US History teacher who told HD Daily News: “I do not discuss or teach something I feel I do not have sufficient info for. I am taking these first days to pray and process. I will likely share my burdens about it Monday but have no intention to have a debate or true discussion because it will fire exactly what I don't want in my classroom which is fear and hysteria.”

A chemistry and physics teacher told us: “…opened the zoom at the end of [class] for anyone to air their feelings without judgement. Had a few kids take advantage. Many were concerned about the ripple effects of what would happen later on. A few were frustrated that they didn't feel that any of the allegations were 'being taken seriously', and 'what's the harm' of looking into them.”

So what do you do as an educator when the students have the urge to talk about it?

One High Desert ELA teacher told us: “Most of the kids indicated that they felt a clear sense of inequity about the protest from last year as opposed to these. Several of them said that they didn't like how the media was characterizing these people as simply protesters.”

We finally spoke to a drama teacher who teaches students between grades 9-12. She explained to us that she established a safe space before having the remote conversation during each of her classes which hold 45-50 students at a time on Zoom. She then gave students context for the events that transpired on January 6th and followed up with historical events and facts of 1812 which was the last time the U.S. Capitol was taken over. Our source tells us that her goal was to give students a safe space to talk, to address the issues, and let them know that their voices and their dreams for the future of this country matter. The paraphrased responses from her students was very revealing:

“I’m shook that BLM protests were met with more violence than the terrorists taking over the Capitol.”

“I was scared. My family and I were watching the news all day. I just can’t believe they were let in so easily.”

“There was one officer of color on his own calling for backup against a mob of people. There’s no way he could have used force to stop them without getting attacked.”

“I thought 2020 was over.”

“This really highlights that the police and the government are white supremacists.”

“So what’s next?”

HD Daily News also reached out to Hesperia Unified School District Superintendent, David Olney to get his take on how the events of January 6th should be addressed with students. Mr. Olney stated to HD Daily News:

“We know that many in our community, including our students, have been affected by the recent events at our nation's capitol. We encourage our staff to support their students in the aftermath, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and be heard. However, we also caution them that this is a particularly challenging discourse and it's important that our teachers avoid personal and political opinion, ensuring that any dialogue is developmentally appropriate. I have shared with staff that discussion of civil discourse, particularly in a history or government class, is appropriate. It is also important that our students understand that, as Americans, we have fundamental rights of expression, but the violent and destructive actions at the capitol were inappropriate, illegal, and not protected by our constitution.”

These interviews appeared to show educators who were on both sides of the fence with what seems to be acceptable and unacceptable with today’s youth. One of the ELA teachers continued on in the conversation telling us that if teachers are not comfortable talking about these specifically charged conversations then it’s okay too because they do have the potential to go very badly. However, it’s also a great moment at the same time to allow children opportunities to process what’s going on.