SHS Teacher’s Opinions on Discussions Regarding the Insurrection on the Capitol

By: Sarah Yi — Editor-in-Chief

After Pro-Trump rioters invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021, many had opinions on whether or not teachers of Sharon High School should be able to share their personal opinions on the insurrection. 

Government teacher Mr. Sean O’Reilly says the Social Studies Department put together a document with resources about the events, which included photos, essays, and discussion questions. “After reading an article and looking at the photos, I asked the students to pick the photo that made the biggest impression on them and one of the discussion questions and had them post it on a Google Jamboard,” said O’Reilly.

He says students could also post on the Jamboard why they selected the photo and answer the question they selected, or they could just pose the question because they wanted to hear others discuss it.

“Teachers should be able to speak out against insurrection and sedition. It is imperative that teachers promote democratic values, peace, and civic duty,” said O’Reilly. He says part of a public education is to prepare students to be citizens who can continue the democratic traditions of our country.

O’Reilly says different political views are essential to classrooms and to the nation as a whole, but “that doesn’t mean anything is allowed in the class.” He says there are some things that can’t be allowed in class such as advocating for violence, racism, and bullying, just to name a few. 

He says from his perspective, it was a universal shock and horror from what had happened. “The primary source of debate was how culpable Donald Trump was for the insurrection and how similar/different the events of 1/6 were to the BLM protest over the past spring and summer,” O’Reilly added. 

Junior Justin Meszler says teachers teach, rightly so, that white supremacy is wrong. “So, when a mob of white supremacists invaded the Capitol in an attempt to overturn a democratic and fair election, teachers should absolutely be able to take the time to explain how such an act is dangerous and threatens our institutions and futures,” said Meszler.

He says teachers and students definitely have varying thoughts when it comes to conservatism and liberalism. “Our school community almost certainly has a wide range of views on the political spectrum,” added Meszler. “But what happened in the Capitol was domestic terrorism, and that is not something to reduce to a ‘both sides’ argument of questioning who’s in the wrong.”

“A desire for violent insurrection is not a reasonable political view to respect, and it shouldn’t be treated as such by our teachers or community,” Meszler said. 

Social Studies Teacher Ms. Courtnay Malcolm says teachers have the First Amendment right to express their opinions, but teachers’ opinions should come after what students’ opinions are. “The last thing I want to do is make my students feel as if their opinions are not valid or, more importantly, that there will be a punitive response to their voices,” said Malcolm. “I believe in radical transparency.”

Malcolm says in this case of the insurrection of the Capitol, students have to be aware that they may have different political views, but violence against police officers and our democratic institutions have no place in political discourse. “There is no excuse for the actions that took place there,” she added. 

“If they want to talk about differences in policy, I’m all ears–but I expect all conversations, no matter where people lie on the political spectrum, to be grounded in evidence and reason,” Malcolm said. 

She says in her classes, there were a few students who pushed back during the conversation. “But I think the vast majority were appalled about what happened at the Capitol and never wanted to see that happen again,” said Malcolm. 

Social Studies Coordinator Mr. Chuck Fazzio says he always encourages the members of the social studies department to teach the facts. “I have said that if you are going to share

your personal thoughts to be sure to let students know that these are your personal thoughts and students must always feel free to agree or disagree,” said Fazzio.

He took the approach to teach students what the facts were on the invasion of the Capitol on January 6. Fazzio says facts such as how “the President’s words and actions over the course of the past several weeks that stoked the fires of insurrection lying about a fraudulent election” and “many of these demonstrators brought weapons including Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs” are facts that the far-right and some lawmakers have chosen to deny. “So, many of us discussed a timeline of factual events that lead to the storming of the Capitol,” added Fazzio. 

He says part of an educator’s job is to instill values like truth and justice. Fazzio says his general advice to colleagues has always been to create a safe learning environment for all students where honest discussions can take place. Teachers should be to moderate discussions challenging students to think critically for themselves not to indoctrinate.

“We teach history and what happened in Washington D.C. last week was unprecedented in our times. The Capitol has not been physically under attack since the War of 1812, and this nation’s government has not been threatened by insurrectionists since the Civil War,” he added. “Sometimes keeping personal feelings private must be put aside because there is a greater moral calling.”

In his honest opinion, Fazzio says the nation is sick of a president who has chosen to divide and inflame when he could have united and healed. “Who displaces truth for lies and who has placed personal interests in front of the greater needs of a nation struggling with a pandemic, a pandemic he said was a hoax,” he added. 

Fazzio says he has taught classes for years where students have had no idea what his political beliefs are because he is happy to challenge all students not just those who might agree with his personal beliefs. 

“In fact, one of my classes thought I was a Marco Rubio supporter during the primaries perhaps an indication it possible to challenge students to allow them the freedom to explore their own beliefs and not tip your hand as to your own personal beliefs. I voted for Elizabeth Warren,” he added. 

He says because we have lost the ability as people to be able to agree to disagree, to hold civil discourse, and to find common ground, we do not respect our neighbors and do not care to listen to them either. Fazzio says this is true of both the left and the right. 

“In the many, many, classes that I have taught over my 30 years I hope to God there has never been a student who ever felt like they could not have expressed their thoughts and opinions freely in my classes,” Fazzio added. “And that no student has ever felt threatened because of my challenges to their arguments.”

Fazzio says learning is an ongoing process for us all, young and old. “When ideas cannot be freely challenged and discussed, I would argue you will sow what we currently are reaping in our nation today, divisiveness, stagnation, violence, and decay,” he said.

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