Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that championing transformation requires time, dedication, and persistent action. We should all let his words encourage us during these tempestuous times. Not since the War of 1812, when British forces set fire to the Capitol, have the halls of power in Washington D.C. been overtaken by violent intruders as they were on January 6. As the world watched this spectacle of live mayhem, educators across our country immediately realized that the ordinary curriculum would need to temporarily give way. As a former teacher of U.S. History and a proud child of a Korean War Veteran, I never thought I would see such acts committed by our own American citizens. The things we witnessed that day left us with questions as educators and parents as to how we should help our students and children make sense of this situation. This will become a moment, along with Pearl Harbor and 911, that teachers will discuss with students as a dark day in our country’s history. As educators, we are charged with the responsibility to educate students about the important history that shapes current events, build their capacity for critical thinking, and inspire them to actively participate in civic engagement to help make their communities safer and stronger. We recognize that education is essential for our democracy. In fact, preparing the next generation of compassionate, ethical leaders and citizens is the very reason many educators enter the profession. Our teachers and administrators have established a safe space for discussion and learning about these still evolving events today and in the weeks to follow.
The United States has long served as a model of democracy across the world. Despite these disturbing events, we must believe in the power of everyday Americans to come together and begin to heal. The painful truth is that teachable moments are harder when our children see a lack of moral leadership from those they look up to. Our schools have a critical role to play in this process by fostering civic engagement and literacy, kindness and respect for our fellow citizens, civil discourse, and critical thinking. This Wednesday, Joe Biden will officially be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. The nation must move on in recognition of this basic fact. The outcome cannot be changed. Not acknowledging this fact is setting a poor example for our children and students who are watching and hearing everything we do and say. Our educators and administrators will model unbiased and appropriate behaviors in regard to the political unrest and observance of the democratic process. We must continue to champion the power of education to end intolerance, disrupt systemic inequity, and create safe spaces for dialogue, unity, and growth. The partnership between educators and parents has been both challenged and strengthened over the past few months with the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us come together once more as a community to ease our children’s anxiety and remind them of their role as protectors of our democracy. I am heartened by the words of President Harry S. Truman: “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” Let us all tap into that courage, imagination, and unbeatable determination to work toward a bright, safe, and equitable future for ALL our children.