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How history classes teach January 6th, one year later

Spencer Tritt

After the armed pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, history teachers scrambled to explain the day’s events to their students. A full year later, how are teachers talking about that day?

On January 6, 2022, Lukas Clevinger asked his history class what day it was. It took them a bit, but eventually, they realized it had been a year since the attack on the Capitol.

Student-teacher Alaina Earlywine went deeper. Do they remember why the extremist mob was there in the first place?

“After some digging, they did remember why they were there, that it had something to do with the election,” she said.

Clevinger’s class went back and watched the same clips of the mob storming the Capitol they’d seen a year earlier.

“Looking at how different news organizations were portraying it, spinning that it was pro-Trump demonstrators or that was Antifa infiltrating and things like that," he said. "Just how from hours after that narrative was already changing, and how it's changed over the course of this year."

Teachers like Clevinger try to point it out so students don’t get caught up in misinformation meant to muddle what actually happened on that day.

U.S. government teacher Nicole Frazer says that January 6 is far from the only day history and government classes talk about January 6. That’s because the lessons extend to so many areas they already teach.

It fits in with elections, the Civil War, and the powers of the executive. It certainly helps teach about concepts that used to be abstract for students like the Electoral College.

“It's like, ‘Oh, okay, I can bring this in because we're talking about voter rights and voter protection,'" said Frazer. "'And what does the Constitution say about voting? Well, this is how January 6 and the arguments around it connect into that as well.’”

Frazer said January 6 fits nicely into their current unit on politics and power.

“It's about tracing how this didn't come out of just nowhere," she said, "that we need to understand how this movement grows, and how it reflects other parts of history.”

Clevinger asks his students questions like "who has power?," "how do they maintain it?," and "what happens when they’re asked to give part of it up?"

“We framed it in the events of other things like the Tulsa riots in the early 1900s, and things like that,” he said. “This is not the first event of this magnitude. It's the first one to challenge in Washington D.C. but it's not the first massive white supremacist movement.”

Clevinger says that January 6 was obviously shocking. But after his students traced the roots of the movement and former-president Trump’s baseless fraud claims leading up to the 2020 election -- many said it’s not that surprising.

Emma Carmona is a senior in his class.

“I definitely feel like something like this could possibly happen again in the future,” she said. “I feel like this could possibly resurface once the 2024 elections come.”

It’s one of the reasons at the beginning of the school year, Clevinger asks his students “Why do we learn history?”

“Because I get a lot of the ‘it's boring.' 'How does this help me run a business?,' things like that," he said. "And it's an understanding a lot of kids came up with this that if you don't realize [what happened] you're doomed to repeat it. So, by continuing these conversations, you're going to try and prevent the next event like this.”

And since the causes and ramifications of January 6 intersect with so many issues in their classes, conversations about the attempted insurrection aren’t going anywhere.

“By minimizing our discussion or removing it entirely, we fail to realize that teaching is political,” said Clevinger. “We have to understand the importance of this event and events like it has to be talked about because once they're brushed aside they're allowed to happen again.”

The fallout of the pro-Trump mob’s attack continues. Hearings on it are still being held. And teachers like Clevinger and Frazer want to make sure their students have the tools to understand the impact of that day.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.