Last Wednesday, millions of Americans tuned in to cable television networks and scrolled through their social media feeds to digest the breaking news that a pro-Trump protest had turned into a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol.
For years to come the events that took place in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, will be recalled as one of the most important days in American history. However, local teachers know how they taught in real time was just as crucial.
“The first day after the riot at the Capitol, the first activity we did was a voter registration drive in all my classes,” Southmont government teacher Reasley Thompson said. “I told the students that voting is the most democratic action you can do. We wanted to give them an avenue to have to be involved for many years to come.”
While the views on politics and other events that have transpired in the last year range far and wide in teenagers, Thompson continues to remind his students that it’s important to understand different perspectives.
“I was proud of my students for their critical thinking skills as many of them could see the events from multiple perspectives and lenses,” he said. “My seniors have really learned throughout the years from their other teachers to have a worldly view and not to get locked in on just one position and never changing it. They are willing listeners and can debate in a manner that is healthy and growth-minded.”
Even with many differing views on the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol while Congress was in session counting the electoral votes for the 2020 Presidential Election between President Donald Trump and President-Elect Joe Biden, Crawfordsville government teacher Sean Gerold reminded his students of the difference between a peaceful protest and one that turned violent and therefore unlawful.
“We talked about the constitutional purpose of the day and then went into a discussion about what happened,” he said. “We looked at the First Amendment and how protests are allowed in this country, but violence by any side is not constitutional. We also talked about how hyper partisanship in politics has gotten us here and how it has not always been this way.”
In the coming months and years current high school students will be the next faces of American society as politicians, teachers, business owners and parents — but North Montgomery English teacher Lee Douma sees a concerning pattern in how they digest news from social media platforms.
“I think the filter/algorithm bubble is one of the greatest threats to the future of our country,” he said. “Most young people don’t seek out news about current events — especially political news. They simply scroll through what flows into their social media feeds and passively absorb whatever TV news their parents watch.”
Douma, who teaches a critical thinking class among junior English and AP Literature, most recently has seen a trend of students engaging with the social media platorm Tik-Tok for their primary news source.
“If we can’t help them become more conscious and deliberate about their news consumption, we’re certainly going to continue to become increasingly polarized,” he said. “In the last several months almost every time that I’ve asked students what they know about current events, the most common answer is, ‘Well, I saw a couple things on TikTok.’”
To further Gerold’s point about the recent emergence of hyper partinsanship, Douma said in his 26 years of teaching, he has never seen “partisan identity, allegiance and sensitivities at the levels they’ve reached in the last few years.”
Last week’s events and the ongoing discussion surrounding things like the election, coronavirus and racial equality continue to support that claim as the future of America is carving a new path — and the unfortunate reality is students are not fully grasping the significance.
“Sadly, I think many of them have just chalked it up as yet another discouraging aspect of life in 2020-2021," Douma said. “Many of them are feeling so overwhelmed or isolated right now that they couldn’t really care less about national politics.”
Luckily, they are realizing that division and hate amongst each other is not the answer — and Thompson is doing his best to instill that belief in his students.
“The term most used by the students was that they were sad,” Thompson said about discussing last week’s events with his students. “They want a unified nation with less division. I also think it is important that I show my students the beauty of our country. So often when it comes to current events in the news, you get a lot of negativity so I make it an emphasis to show them who we really are as a people. The first three minutes of each period we watch a three minute character video where it shows good citizens helping others.”