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Indiana Experts Explain The Role Of Schools In Times Of Political Unrest, Violence

The U.S. Capitol building and the National Mall.

Experts say schools are designed to preserve democracy and are a critical place for kids to safely navigate information and their feelings after national crises and during political unrest. (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

The Capitol attack targeting lawmakers in Washington, D.C., has left people reeling – including educators – but people in the education field say there are several steps schools can take to address ongoing political unrest, while supporting the emotional needs of kids.

Social studies specialists say the nation's toxic political climate highlights the need for more comprehensive civic education in schools – and better preparation for teachers to have those conversations. 

Stephanie Serriere is a professor of social studies education at Indiana University Purdue University Columbus. She said public schools are designed to preserve civic knowledge and function. 

"Democracy isn't a machine that runs on its own – it must be constantly and diligently handed down to the next generation," Serriere said. 

Serriere said the recent attack means things like teaching students how to verify and critically research new information, and engage in civic action at every age are even more urgent. She also said it's vital for schools to teach history from multiple perspectives – not just the "white militaristic" version. 

READ MORE: Little To No Political Consequences For Lawmakers Who Voted To Overturn Election

But kids spend a lot of their time in school, meaning teachers are some of the first – and sometimes only – trusted people to help kids work through unfamiliar emotions that national crises bring on. 

Lisa Aguilar is a school psychology professor at Indiana University. She said in the aftermath of the Capitol attack, it's especially important for teachers to have some sort of cultural competency training because of the racism and white supremacy expressed by capitol insurrectionists.

"If teachers have exposure to that sort of training that's gonna be a defining factor in whether they're successful and how supportive – positively supportive – they can be to kids," she said.

Aguilar said schools are facing an unfair number of challenges because of the pandemic in addition to a toxic political climate, but teachers can seek out resources to help them have honest, age-appropriate conversations with kids. 

She also said school leaders play a key role in building trust and relationships with the community to make that happen in a positive way, especially to help teachers who may be navigating a wide-range of political and personal beliefs families have.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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