TOPSHAM — Just hours after a group of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from accepting the votes that made Joe Biden president, Mt. Ararat High School social studies teachers were meeting online to plan how to talk about last week’s events with their students.

Lou Dorogi, who helms the school’s social studies department, said his primary concern was to make certain he and his colleagues remain as nonpartisan as possible discuss what unfolded at the Capitol with their students. If not, it would only add to the divisions between people.

Friday, he said students came to his class with questions, such as what motivated the riot. Other questions revolved around anxiety students have about the future, “like how bad is this going to get?” Dorogi said. “A lot of students are anxious about the direction of the world or the country, moving forward.”

On Wednesday, thousands of Trump’s supporters marched to the Capitol after being encouraged to do so by the president. The protest devolved into a riot, with demonstrators breaking windows and breaking down doors to gain entry to the building. With numbers that dwarfed the police presence, others were allowed to walk through the door. Clashes with police at the doors and inside lead to the shooting death of one protester and the bludgeoning death of a Capitol police officer.

The assault sparked discussion Friday among Mt. Ararat High School Advanced Placement government and politics students in teacher Jessica Graham’s classes. Students in the course have spent the past several months looking at American founding documents like the Federalist Papers and the U.S. Constitution and examining the jobs of each branch of the government and their relationships to one another.

Her students talked about the peaceful transfer of power between political opponents and the idea that humans can either solve problems with brute force or violence, or set up a political system. Graham said students in her classes also discussed what happens when people act outside of that system and engage in violent acts not protected under the First Amendment, which provides the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government.

The riot was sparked after President Trump alleged the election was stolen from him through fraud, though there has been no proof of that. Congress reconvened overnight after the riot was dispersed to finish the official count of the electoral college votes, confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s election win early Thursday.

“Does this mean future elections are more likely to have violence?” Graham said some of her students asked. “So their questions were getting at: Is this level of instability normal. Is this what we can expect the rest of their lives.”

Even before Wednesday’s events, Brunswick High School social studies teacher Michael Misner’s history and current events students talked about what was going on with the electoral college, which is typically part of a mundane process. Wednesday, as Misner watched events at the U.S. Capitol unfold live, he thought about how to deal with the situation with students.

“I would be lying if I was saying I wasn’t nervous going into the class because, as well as I know the students at this point, right now it affected me and it affected all of us,” he said.

His students reviewed American democracy topics they’re learned about this year, including the peaceful transfer of power. Students Friday talked about James Madison’s Paper No. 10, written in 1787 discussing worries of dangerous factions rising and the need for representative democracy.

Students also raised a lot of questions about the security aspect of rioters storming the Capitol, Misner said: “How does something like that happen from a security standpoint?”

Misner’s students also talked about the different approaches they saw between the protest at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday and the Black Lives Matter protests taking place around the country over the summer in protest of racism and bias in law enforcement, healthcare, and other U.S. institutions.

Dorogi said social studies teachers at Mt. Ararat High School have talked about long-term plans about how to incorporate Wednesday’s events into the curriculum and lessons. When it comes to facilitating discussion about important issues like Black Lives Matter and Wednesday’s riot.

“We need more training on how to host these kinds of conversations because they’re critical,” he said.


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