JoCo educators give advice on how to talk to kids about violence at U.S. Capitol

Photo credit Elvert Barnes. Used under a creative commons license.

The images and video that unfolded Wednesday as the nation’s capitol was overrun by a mob of pro-Trump extremists were shocking. And they could prompt some difficult conversations with kids and young people.

The Post reached out to some local educators to get some advice on how to cope and process the chaotic events with kids and also to see how they were approaching this delicate issue the day after:

‘Listen and be available’

John McKinney, Shawnee Mission School District director of family services, said the event was “definitely a teachable moment” and that it was important that teachers, administrators, social workers and counselors made themselves available to students during this time.

Parents and teachers should create a space where kids feel comfortable to ask questions, said John McKinney, Shawnee Mission School District director of family services. File photo credit Getty Images.

“Students are going to be bringing a lot of thoughts and questions and they trust their teachers,” McKinney said.

McKinney said educators’ “biggest obligation” is to create a space where students feel safe to ask questions. And, if you don’t know the answers, that’s ok too.

“We are also learning as the situation unfolds…,” he said. “Listen and be available.”

As far as tips for parents go, McKinney said that as parents and kids process the events together it is important for parents to model the behavior they want from their kids.

“We need to stay calm,” he said.

Expect uncomfortable questions

David Smith, communications manager for the Shawnee Mission School District, said it’s important to help kids understand how yesterday’s events fit into our governmental process while assuring them that our federal government is still functioning and intact.

“It might spark conversations with kids about how they feel about seeing these rioters able to walk about the Capitol without being arrested, without being killed, which is different from what we’ve seen in protests this summer,” he said. “Allow them to go there if they do. This could spark questions that could be uncomfortable, but kids need to ask those questions to help them process this.”

Allow feelings to come out

Kimberly Gilman, 8th grade social studies teacher at Hocker Grove Middle School, said she participated in an emergency Twitter chat with other educators and parents on Wednesday night to help her prepare for Thursday’s classes.

She said she had her students journal to get their emotions and feelings out. Students also reviewed headlines and images compiled by social studies teachers and discussed terms they may have heard or seen on the news students may not be familiar with.

“We will look for answers to our priority questions and discuss more tomorrow, especially as several students are asking about parallels with The Civil War and racial issues which we were already studying,” Gilman said. “I want to give students agency to direct our inquiry while also offering context and opportunities to process.”

Be prepared to have a ‘serious discussion’ if kids are ready

Genie Scruton, a 6th grade teacher at Mill Creek Elementary, said she and her students actually began watching the beginning of the Congressional debates to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory yesterday and knew she had to talk about Wednesday’s events with her students onThursday.

She said many students were eager to have potentially difficult, complex discussions about why Trump supporters were rioting and how Wednesday’s events played out differently to protests and demonstrations led by Black Lives Matter last summer.

“We talked about the differences in a ‘protest’ and a ‘riot.’ We talked about the differences between what happened yesterday and the BLM protests this summer. They were very open to these discussions and were amazed that people would do this,” Scruton told the Post. “I wanted them to understand that what happened Wednesday is not the way we want to solve problems.”

She said many of her students came to school having already talked to their parents on Wednesday.

“It was a serious discussion, but I believe that it was needed. I told them that this event will still be talked about for several days or weeks and that I’m here to help them process and/or answer questions the best I can.”

Bu avoid pressing if they’re not ready to talk

Steve Laird, an 11th Grade U.S. History and 12th Grade American Government teacher at SM East said he started off Wednesday’s classes by showing students coverage of the event.

“I made the conscious decision not to show American news coverage because I didn’t want to immediately lose students who had preconceived notions about one media outlet or another,” he said.

“I go to painstaking lengths in my classes to not force my bias or other bias onto my students. It’s not my job to make democrats or republicans, it is my job to make active and engaged citizens. And that basically became the theme of the lesson.”

From there, he said he had kids talk about what they were seeing and how they were feeling.

“I didn’t come in with a script or even an outline of what I wanted to say because I didn’t know what my students needed to hear,” he wrote in an email. “Yes, I made a point to call a spade a spade: this was an insurrection, an attempt to overthrow a U.S. election, but this wasn’t the time for me to air my opinions and grievances.”

“It was a time for me to make sure my students were okay. I knew if I was struggling to process this as a 33-year-old who has taught for 10 years that my students would be doing so as well,” he wrote.

He said, ultimately, based on what he was hearing students say, he decided to push back weightier intellectual tasks like making a historical analysis with other such events, and instead just allowed students to continue to process and reflect together as a class.

“In the end, the moment took us to the conclusion that we are all Americans regardless of our opinions and we are all in this together,” he said.