History teachers respond to capitol insurrection, historic current events with discussions

January 21, 2021 — by Nicole Lu and Anouk Yeh

Following the Jan. 6 raid on the Capitol building, many history teachers, in an effort to help students understand the situation in terms of historical context, took the initiative to incorporate the attack into their lesson plans. 

The night of the attack, principal Greg Louie sent an email to history teachers, encouraging them to help their students unpack the day’s events.

“[As history teachers], we have political knowledge that we've studied on a professional level, so if longer deliberation that was going to happen, it should probably happen in the history classroom,” said AP U.S. History teacher Faith Daly.

U.S. Government teachers also restructured their classes to focus more on current events in the days after the attack. Following the insurrection, senior Winston Liu, a student in history teacher Mike Davey’s AP Government class, noticed and appreciated the longer time dedicated to discussing recent issues.

“He’s very good at keeping us informed and constantly shares reputable articles about events occurring every week,” Liu said. “When going over examples of certain aspects of political science, Davey relates recent events to his definitions and explanations, connecting us to what happens and helping give us a stake in the importance of American government.”

Both Daly and history teacher Margarita Morelle created a period-long, discussion-based lesson in their AP U.S. History classes devoted to exploring the historical precedence for the storming and helping students unpack their emotions surrounding the event. 

“[We structured] the lesson like a discussion because the goal wasn't to preach how one should think about it,” Daly said. “The goal was to help [students] figure out how they think about it in a quiet space without things thundering at them.”

In an attempt to cultivate a space where students could freely express their opinions, Daly and Morelle decided to carry out the lesson on PearDeck, where students could type out their thoughts without feeling pressured to share their opinions with the class. 

At the beginning of the lesson, Daly and Morelle focused on helping students process their feelings, asking questions like “What emotions do you have surrounding this event?” and “What words do you associate with what happened?” 

Afterwards, the teachers began connecting the situation to historic parallels, pointing out the insurrection’s similarity to historical events such as Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and the Election of 1860.

Junior Bella Lin, who is in Daly’s APUSH class, called the lesson “really meaningful” and said it helped her organize her thoughts regarding the capitol raid. 

“I was feeling shocked and mad about the insurrection, but the lesson definitely helped me process my emotions,” Lin said. “I was able to take a step back and think about why something like this is happening, and discussing it in class really helped.”

Lin added that Daly’s lesson also helped her understand the historical significance of certain politicians’ stances toward the insurrection.

Halfway through the lesson, Daly played a video of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) condemning the capitol insurrection and pointed out the significance of Graham’s position as senator of South Carolina — the state that had initiated the secession that led to the Civil War. 

“Since we learned about South Carolina’s history of rebellion in APUSH, it was easy for us to understand why the senator had such opinions about the insurrections, and I thought this connection was really fascinating,” Lin said.

Students in Morelle’s classes enjoyed the anonymity and safe space cultivated by the PearDeck discussion as well, and their discussion led many students to take away new insights on the situation.

“Her approach was very considerate and educational,” junior Emma Chu said. 

Chu said that Morelle went out of her way to stress to students that this type of political violence was abnormal and that students should not normalize it.

As someone who was still reeling from the attack, Chu found the PearDeck a beneficial way of expressing her thoughts and feelings.

“The situation definitely shouldn’t have happened, but it’s important to look at all perspectives to determine why an event of this magnitude occurred and to address the growing division between Republicans and Democrats that is breeding more violence and hate,” she said. 

Daly said that she could tell that her lesson plan discussion was engaging for the students because “class participation in that lesson was the highest it's been all year.” She added that she had multiple students hang back and thank her for centering the class’s lesson on the insurrection.

“I was really happy for those students who were so touched that they felt the need to do that, and I'm so incredibly grateful that so many of my students trusted me,” Daly said.