Discussing Capitol attack with schoolkids: a teachable moment like few others

NJ’s acting education commissioner ‘still processing the best way to discuss these events with students’
Credit: (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Jan. 6, 2021: Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

In a time that has provided more than a few “teachable moments” for educators, the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week — and the possibility of more unrest to come — fall into the unprecedented.

The state Department of Education issued “A Special Broadcast Message” to school districts from acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan, with resources and guides for educators when addressing the events in Washington with students.

“As a former classroom teacher, I am still processing the best way to discuss these events with students,” wrote Allen-McMillan, former principal in South Orange/Maplewood.

“How would I approach the weighty task of offering the necessary historical, social, and political context, while at the same time providing students the space and tools needed to unpack the emotional shock?”

The message overall is one of engagement and openness with students, albeit in an age-appropriate way — similar to best practices with other historical events, from the Sept. 11 attacks to the 2012 school massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

The  resources shared by the commissioner  largely have been generated by education experts and groups nationwide.

For instance, just a day after the storming of the Capitol, a national education group released a guide for teachers, entitled “What happened during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and why?”

Much of the resources focus on teaching specifically about elections and civics, including one from the Anti-Defamation League and another from the Sesame Street Workshop. And there are whole websites devoted to teaching about issues that have arisen in 2020 alone, from the national election to, of course, the global pandemic.

“I encourage all educators and families around the State to have these open and frank dialogues with students, colleagues, friends, and relatives,” Allen-McMillan wrote. “Every watershed moment like this provides an opportunity for reflection, processing, education, and improvement.”