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Teaching the Roots of What Happened to America on January 6, 2021

“...with liberty and justice for all”
-The Pledge of Allegiance

A year ago today I was just about to head outside and play with my son when I noticed a flag waving group of protesters on the TV I had left on in the background. Knowing the election results were being certified I didn’t think much of it.

After playing with my son on an unusually warm midwest winter afternoon, I came back and realized things were taking a turn. We saw the images, the footage, flags being used as weapons…police officers being pinned by protesters…congressmen and women hiding in their place of work - where on a typical day, democracy is upheld.

Vice President Kamala Harris said in her opening remarks today that there are days in history where our democracy has come under assault that burn into our collective memory, taking us back to where we were when they happened: Pearl Harbor, September 11th, 2001, and January 6th, 2021.

The Vice President went on to say this movement was lead by “by some radical faction that may be newly resurgent but whose roots run old and deep.” The list of historical comparisons could have gone on, touching on more recent shootings in San Bernadino, Charleston, and Orlando in 2015 and 2016, to further back in the Oklahoma City and Olympic Park Bombings of 1995 and 1996, or even further back to the 16th street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963 or the Tulsa Massacre in 1921. Violent extremism and the bigotry fueling them have long existed in our country, and collectively we as a nation were shaken from our wishful thinking as those extremists filed into the Senate floor.

As a social studies teacher, my mind immediately went to the importance of an education that encounters our nation's full history, knowing that this moment should be taught in schools but perhaps 10 years from now some will refuse to mention it. Even the Tulsa Massacre, a violent terror attack on a community of color orchestrated by white supremacists, is nearly absent from history textbooks. The assault on this education continues as groups protest Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project and many others.

A few years ago a group of students from Exploris Middle School in North Carolina saw the need for an education that explored our nation’s full history. Diving into their local community they sought to honor the memory of George Taylor, an African American man who was lynched over a 100 years ago in their local county. They sought to honor his memory and design a Citizen’s Promise, a pledge to seek out racial justice and commit to antiracism that all citizens could and should take:

"I pledge To remember all those who have been victims of any injustice. To choose to create an opportunity for reconciliation in our community. To promise to no longer remain silent or passive in the face of White Supremacy, racial hatred, or any social injustice."

This pledge should serve as a sign of hope of where our nation is going and the brilliant and compassionate students who will take us there. If our school communities continue to create the space where our students can design solutions like these, committing to living social justice, those roots Vice President Harris spoke of may one day wither and loosen their grip on our nation.


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