How teachers are talking about the Jan. 6 insurrection in schools A year after a pro-Trump mob invaded the U.S. Capitol, teachers say they want students to grapple with the uncomfortable facts of the day.

8 ways teachers are talking about Jan. 6 in their classrooms

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


You know, when I was growing up, our schoolteachers sometimes referred to current events, you know, a space shuttle crash or a presidential election. But how do teachers on this day discuss the insurrection one year ago, January 6, 2021? NPR's Cory Turner spoke with a dozen educators about how they're handling the anniversary in the classroom. Cory, good morning.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking, if you're a teacher, you're looking out at a typical classroom, there would be kids from families that believe the election lies, kids from families that know the facts and probably kids from families that are on a spectrum, in between, and might disagree about how important the attack on the Capitol really was. So how do they - where do they start?

TURNER: Yeah. Well, they start with some ground rules to make sure the conversation is healthy and respectful. Teachers told me that students need to feel safe sharing their feelings and opinions without, you know, fear of judgment or embarrassment. Also, you might be surprised by this, Steve. Many told me they don't assume students know much, if anything, about what actually happened at the Capitol last year. They say their students mostly, you know, get their news not from traditional sources these days but filtered through friends and family and social media, like Instagram and TikTok.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, how do they establish the facts in the classroom then?

TURNER: Well, they start with the facts - or at least a foundation of the less controversial facts. Let's say, like, Congress was meeting in a joint session. The vice president was presiding over the whole thing. They were certifying the election results. Nearby, near the White House, there was a pre-planned rally. And from that foundation of facts, they then start building using primary sources, like videos of the attack or a transcript of Trump's speech at the rally.

INSKEEP: So the basic facts can be established. But what about when we get to the motivation for the rally? There was this NPR/Ipsos poll out just this week that found that most Republicans, two-thirds of Republicans, still believe with no evidence whatsoever that fraud helped Joe Biden win the White House. And we'll just pause to mention Republican officials in state after state certified the election. And Republican investigations after the election found no fraud. But many Republicans still believe this.

TURNER: Yeah. I mean, many teachers I talked with told me they feel we're in a kind of truth crisis right now. Not only do our students not know the difference between a fact and an opinion or propaganda, but many adults don't either. So several teachers said their plan for today is to help students build what are called news literacy skills, you know? It's pretty fundamental. You look at something online. And you ask yourself, who pays for this website? And do they have a vested interest in misleading me? A few teachers also told me, you know, it's important not to create a false equivalence where it can seem to students who don't know much about this thing that both sides of the argument say President Trump's election fraud claims are equally backed by evidence, when they're not. Here's one teacher, Matthew Kay. He teaches English in Philadelphia.

MATTHEW KAY: I try to avoid those kind of cheap tricks. Like, we're not going to debate whether or not the election was stolen. We're not going to debate whether or not his claims have merit or any of those kind of things.

TURNER: You know, Steve, another teacher told me the fact that many students don't read or listen to or watch objective news sources makes it that much more important that teachers not sugarcoat - that's his word - what happened last year.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking there's probably got to be a lot of kids who grew up in a house or are growing up in a house where there's not just a newspaper that arrives at the door. So what kinds of lesson plans seem interesting to you?

TURNER: Well, one really jumped at it to - jumped out to me. Several teachers said they want to focus on the language, on the words that have been used to describe what happened, you know, protest, demonstration, riot, insurrection. We heard just yesterday Republican Ted Cruz call it a, quote, "violent terrorist attack." And teachers want to use those words to draw students into similar events from the past, you know? Here's Emma Humphries of iCivics. It's a national nonprofit devoted to civics education.

EMMA HUMPHRIES: Why was Shays' Rebellion called a rebellion? Why was the Boston Tea Party called a tea party? Why was John Brown's raid called a raid? And then, in the context of January 6, what do we think this will be referred to as in a history book 20, 30 years from now?

TURNER: You know, one teacher told me she plans to draw a parallel with the Tulsa race riot, which wasn't a riot at all but the slaughter of as many as 300 Black Americans at the hands of an armed white mob in 1921. And yet it took a century for it to be called a massacre, which is a much more truthful word.

INSKEEP: NPR's Cory Turner. Thanks.

TURNER: Thanks, Steve.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.