MASON, Ohio — The first thing students in Maria Mueller's AP government class wanted to do last Thursday was to nail down facts, a day after a crowd stormed the U.S. Capitol in an apparent attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden's election in November as president of the United States.
"This is what I understand happened; is this the case? Or, this is what I heard happened; is this the case? So they did some fact-checking," said Mueller, who teaches social studies at Mason High School. "They really want to have a conversation. They want to hear how other people are interpreting and how other people are experiencing the events."
The events of Jan. 6 threw out the Jan. 7 lesson plan for teachers like Mueller, who had to grapple with addressing the unprecedented attack on the Capitol and working to understand its causes and its impact on the state of U.S. government and politics.
"Even though they're too young to vote, they're not too young to engage in making our democracy a thriving success," Mueller said. "The thing that I find most significant about their conversation is that they’re very interested in listening to each other."
Mueller's approach lines up with educators' recommendations in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In a Jan. 7 letter to Kentucky teachers, Dr. Jason E. Glass, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, wrote: "Rather than shying away from this issue, I encourage educators to use this as an opportunity to engage with our students and turn the events of Jan. 6 into an opportunity for student learning."
Glass went on to make the following recommendations:
- Cover the basic and verifiable facts
- Be age-appropriate
- Create a safe space for emotional response
- Encourage questions and answer honestly
- Use the event as a launchpad for deeper learning
"Schools that fail to engage students on difficult (and often political) issues – whether willfully or through negligence – also fail in their responsibility to cultivate our nation’s future," Glass wrote.
Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Laura Mitchell also addressed staff in her district, writing: "The path to a better day, to a brighter future, lies in our hands, as we focus on our children, our students and our community. So today we double down on our mission to serve this District and its mission of preparing our students for the future they deserve."
For Mueller, her high school juniors' efforts to listen to each other's points of view could be a lesson to adults everywhere, she said.
"The adults in our society of all stripes certainly can learn from that," she said.