Political Bullsh!t

Anniversary of Capitol attack brings a dilemma for teachers in Republican areas

Liz Wagner, an eighth- and ninth-grade social studies teacher in Iowa, told the Associated Press that last year, administrators warned teachers to be careful in discussing the attack, and students pushed back against her use of the (accurate) term “insurrection.” At the time, she turned to the dictionary definition of the word—but this year, she’ll be more cautious, instead having students watch video of the attack and write about what they saw.

This is kind of what I have to do to ensure that I’m not upsetting anybody,” she said. “Last year I was on the front line of the COVID war, trying to dodge COVID, and now I’m on the front line of the culture war, and I don’t want to be there.”

Anton Schulzki, the president of the National Council for the Social Studies and a teacher in Colorado, will be teaching about Jan. 6, secure in a contract with academic freedom protections despite the recent election of right-wing school board members in his district. 

“I do feel,” he told the AP, “that there may be some teachers who are going to feel the best thing for me to do is to ignore this because I don’t want to put myself in jeopardy, because I have my own bills to pay, my own house to take care of, my own kids to take back and forth to school.”

And no wonder, with Republican-controlled states passing law after law targeting the teaching of race in schools, but often throwing in broad language prohibiting the teaching of basically anything any (white) parent decides to complain about. “On the face of it, if you read the laws, they’re quite vague and, you know, hard to know actually what’s permissible and what isn’t,” Abby Weiss, who develops teaching tools for the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, said.

One thing teachers could bring to their classrooms to frame discussion of the insurrection might be the words of some prominent Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, say.

“Jan. 6th was a disgrace. American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like. Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President,” McConnell said on Feb. 13, 2021. “They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth—because he was angry he’d lost an election.”

Or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who on Jan. 13, 2021, said, “Some say the riots were caused by antifa. There’s absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say it. … Most Americans want neither inaction nor retribution. They want durable, bipartisan justice. That path is still available, but it is not the path we are on today. That doesn’t mean the president is free from fault. The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”

McCarthy, has, of course, changed his tune since in response to pressure from his conference and from Donald Trump. But he said that.

The Republican effort to sweep U.S. history under the rug has been most focused on the long ugly history of racism in this country. Unfortunately, though, the tools they’ve developed to keep teachers from teaching that set of truths will work just as well to keep teachers from teaching the truth about what Donald Trump supporters did just a year ago. Teachers in districts with right-wing school board members or in states with laws targeting critical race theory are right to be nervous—that’s the whole point. 

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