Article

March 2nd, 2021

Educator Voice: Why this educator doesn’t shy away from teaching the day after a traumatic event

EducationEnglishPoliticsSocial Studies
Pro-Trump protesters clash with Capitol police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

 

By Dr. Chris Orlando, Lawrence, Kansas, eighth grade teacher

“How many ‘days after’ have you had in your teaching career?” a colleague asked me on the morning of January 7, the day after the assault on the U.S. Capitol.

I recalled the days immediately following Charlottesville and Sandy Hook, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Whether they’re true world-shakers or simply shake the worlds of some of our students, the day after these traumatic events is an opportunity to show students the fragility of the democratic process and demonstrate to them the historic importance of civic engagement in this great American experiment.

The recent attack on the Capitol building was jarring for my students, and left me wondering how to make sense of the threat of increased political violence that would have once seemed unimaginable in America. But this is why I teach. I teach for the day after.

…the recent attack on the Capitol building was jarring for my students, and left me wondering how to make sense of the threat of increased political violence…

Navigating a day after requires a commitment to honest introspection. What filled my heart when I witnessed a violent mob break into the Capitol and traipse around with Confederate flags? What thoughts ran through my head when I heard of Breonna Taylor’s murder?

Reflecting on my emotions helps prepare me for potentially contentious discussions with my students. Just like checking a blind spot while driving promotes safety by allowing the driver to prevent collisions, I teach so that I can show students that confronting implicit bias promotes equity and prevents discrimination.

As an educator who strives to help prepare students to live morally, creatively and productively in a democratic society, I can’t shy away from day after conversations. They reveal to students what it looks like to respectfully disagree — a nearly extinct species of communication in our country. Modeling a healthy discussion about these topics shows students that what matters more than agreeing with each other is that we all feel respected; after all, no one has ever been insulted into agreement.

In the days after events like Ferguson protests and the Capitol insurgency, it’s important to encourage our students to seek truth. This starts with teachers resisting “bothsidesism,” a journalistic tendency to present two sides of every issue as equal. One reason I teach is to help students learn to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake, and how to parse the areas of grey in the age of digital communication. We all have a responsibility to ensure our students don’t grow up in a post-truth world.

…it’s important to encourage our students to seek truth. This starts with teachers resisting “bothsidesism,” a journalistic tendency to present two sides of every issue as equal.

Because the world that our students are inhabiting is increasingly complex, I teach students how to think, rather than what to think. Many of them think in concrete terms, and my task is to show them that to identify and solve complex problems, we need to think abstractly.

For example, I explained to students that the assault on the U.S. Capitol was an attack on the Capitol building itself, but because duly elected officials were present in the building for the express purpose of fulfilling one of their most important Constitutional responsibilities, it was also a desecration of democracy. I teach to show students that though democracy is an abstract concept, it’s also a tangible and precious thing worth nurturing.

Though I may not remember how many “days after” I’ve had in my teaching career, I do know that after each day I seized the opportunity to build a safe space for students — and me, as a teacher — to grow and learn. There will always be events that leave our students feeling anxious and fearful and those days after in which students need to be comforted and reminded that America will endure.

But ultimately, I teach so that someday we all might live in a world with fewer of them.


Chris Orlando, EdD, teaches American history and Model United Nations at Southwest Middle School in Lawrence, Kansas. He has served on his school’s Building Leadership Team, Equity Team and acted as a guest lecturer in the University of Kansas’s School of Education. Dr. Orlando’s teaching has been recognized with various awards, including “Best of Lawrence Middle School Teacher.”

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