Swamped By The News
Welcome to 2021, friends!
I hardly know how to begin this newsletter in a new year we hoped would be better than the last. It has not even been a fortnight’s worth and I already feel mighty challenged by events and the commentary it has inspired. There was a right wing white supremacist coup attempt at the US Capitol on January 6th. An audio tape of the 45th President of The United States demanding that the Georgia Secretary of State alter the confirmed November election results was released on January 3rd. Meanwhile the January 7th tally of US COVID-19 deaths reached a new single day high of 4112, bringing the nationwide total to over 365,000. I realize these are all US-centric examples and we know that the implications always extend further than we likely imagine. 2021 has not brought us the relief or respite we were looking for.
Here in Austria, lockdown continues, albeit halfheartedly. Mixed messages from government officials have led to increasing levels of public skepticism. Hastily drafted testing strategies and travel restrictions surface inconsistencies that confuse rather than clarify the specific steps that citizens should take. Even with the best intentions, the turquoise-green government has been caught making up policy as they go. In terms of education, while early childhood, elementary and middle school students have enjoyed more in person instruction than distance learning, high school students grades 9 through 11 have not been on campus since mid November. Taken together, it’s a lot.
I wish I could be more upbeat and chipper and I’m sure that time will come. For now I’m thinking about how we respond to each other, to events and of course to our students in these uncertain times. If you’re wondering about how to structure conversations with your students about recent events, resources abound.
Consider these resources from Facing History on preparing current events conversations with students.
Diversity consultants Tamisha Williams and Lori Cohen put together wonderfully differentiated suggestions for educators planning to talk about recent events. Even if it’s not the immediate aftermath of the most dramatic scenes, taking time to hear from students, encouraging their questions and simply offering them space to process together if they choose will go a long way towards building and sustaining trusting learning communities.
One parent of a 2nd grader took note of how her child’s teacher approached the topic of the storming of the Capitol with students. She wrote: “After allowing the kids to share what they know about what happened, her teacher walked them through the definitions of "protest"; "riot"; "coup" and "insurrection".”
Education researcher, Gloria Ladson-Billings, reminds us how crucial it is that we tell our students the truth:
“For much of my career with adult learners I have heard story after story of how we can’t tell our children (read, White, middle class students) about the ugliness of racism. “It’s just too much”. “We don’t want to frighten them!” No one talks about the terror and fear that Black children experience as a fact of daily life. And this rush to protect the “innocent” White children from the truth is a big part of why we cannot make real racial progress in this nation.”
My colleague, Jim Ellis, shared some excellent resources with our MS faculty. This article by Phyllis L. Fagel in Phi Delta Kappan offers 6 ways to help students process the storming of the Capitol. She lets us hear from kids, an aspect which has been missing in a lot of articles. She quotes a 6th grader:
“It’s stressful to not know where teachers stand on an issue. Before asking us how we feel, tell us how you feel. It can’t be a one-sided conversation.”
Read this op-ed by Sam Sanders of NPR:
“Our current troubles — and our current administration — are both just the latest chapters in America's ongoing battle over race.
Trump's presidency has always been about race and reacting to a nation more diverse than it has ever been. We've been reminded of that time and again since he announced his candidacy. So how can anyone still say, "This is not who we are"? Why do we continue to hear that same lie as the worst of America rears its head?
Once you see it as such, it all makes a lot more sense.”
At the same time, let’s not forget this: Rev. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff were elected as Senators in Georgia in a special election on January 5th, giving the Democrats the majority in the US Senate. And their electoral successes were brought about by the collective efforts of Black women-led grassroots get-out-the-vote campaigns. In the midst of this nightmarish news cycle, that’s meaningful and historic. In fact, it’s more than a spoonful of hope.
*Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images 2020. Appeared in The Rolling Stone, Jan. 6, 2021