Author: Dr. Emily Stacey of Rose State College
The field of American Political Science will be forever haunted by the events of January 6, 2021. It is crucial that we, as well as our students, make sense of what happened to avoid a repeat. This topic, and more specifically the buildup to the attack on the U.S. Capitol building, is fraught with emotions. We want to teach Political Science with a nonpartisan, just the facts mentality. Here’s a format I recommend for teaching the January 6 insurrection.
Analyze the Rhetoric Prior to the Insurrection
Establish the intent and the rhetoric used at the Trump rally prior to the storming of Capitol. The conversation about “Stop the Steal” was started long before Americans voted. Some of the first mentions actually came from Trump via Twitter in April 2020. Students can read the transcript of Trump’s speech from January 6, 2021, or watch it as a class to understand the emotion and possibly the intent of the crowd before marching towards the Capitol Building.
For teaching the insurrection, you should include a time frame
A timeline of events: Students who aren’t living and breathing politics every day should have a clear understanding and timeline. This is why it is important to establish the rhetoric. It is helpful to start with the march on Washington D.C., January 5, 2021, which saw Enrique Tarrio, the leader of Proud Boys, arrested and expelled from the city. There are many timelines, but I use the interactive timeline from Washington Post.
Teach the Insurrection through Real-World Accounts
Real-life accounts from journalists who were there. Grace Segers, CBS News reporter, gives a minute-by-60-minute account of her personal experience in January 6. She starts by reporting in the Senate press gallery during the riots. These personal stories make it difficult for us to forget about what happened in Washington D.C. on that day. They provide context for what happened and how it happened.
Talk to the Insurrection
Encourage students to have frank, fact-based conversations about the event. Many of our students are first-time voters in America and are becoming more accustomed to the country’s violent, uncompromising, and often lethal politics. Remind students that this isn’t how American political discourse has been historically (with obvious exceptions like 1968). Our system’s polarization must not be confused with the fact that we are all Americans at the end.
The events of January 6, 2021 will continue to be a teaching moment for Political Science both in the United States and internationally. It is important to acknowledge the discourse and parties involved. This includes groups and rhetoric that are not mentioned here such as QAnon or the Three Percenters. As Political Science professors, we have a critical and unique job in analyzing the details, ideologies and conspiracies that led this event. Part of American society believed that an election was fraudulent and protested against the constitutionally mandated processes. They wanted to stop the peaceful transfer of executive power in the longest-running democracy in the world. This is a lot of stuff. Good luck, friends!
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