In less than a year, a pandemic has killed nearly 400,000 in the United States, a new President was elected, civil unrest hit the nation’s streets and the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. came under attack on Jan. 6, followed this week by a potential second impeachment of the President.
While teachers and students are coping with virtual learning, they are also grappling with unprecedented news seemingly taking place on a daily basis.
Palos Verdes High School AP history teacher D.J. Hill said teaching current events through a historical lens as they happen is “about making connections to what they know and what they’ve learned.”
“On Wednesday, when the insurrection occurred, we certainly had to talk about how unprecedented it was,” said Hill, who grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, attended Palos Verdes High School and is in his sixth year of teaching..
Hill said it is important to him while teaching history to the juniors in his class not to allow his students to know his political affiliation. He said he is well aware of his students and their families will have different political perspectives in a time when the country is polarized politically.
“If I were to express a partisan affiliation," Hill said, "from that point forward, they’re wondering if I’m portraying history through a partisan lens."
Tammy Heath, an 8th grade United States history teacher at Hermosa Valley School, said current events have always been part of her lesson planning.
In January 2020, she said one of her students on her current event day shared with the class a story about a virus from China.
“That was the first time I had heard of the virus was from one of my students and I've always myself been a bit of a current event junkie,” said Heath who has been teaching for 25 years, 21 of those in Hermosa Beach.
On Jan. 6, she was teaching live on Zoom and was sharing things with her students when things began to intensify at the Capitol.
“I knew I couldn't put it on live, because I can share my screen, because I was worried somebody was going to get hurt,” Heath said. “And sure enough that's what happened.”
When the class period was ending at 12:45, she encouraged her students to talk to their parents and “follow some sort of news source when class was finished.”
Over the following days, they discussed the unfolding events and how it was unprecedented in U.S. history so “they can watch the news and they can understand what’s going on.”
Heath said “I think a good effective teacher the kids wouldn't even know who I voted for.” She is also careful of her word choice and tries to “share a balanced side.”
“I have to be honest, it's very hard to find another side to this particular story,” Heath said about the Capitol takeover. “When it comes to that, many times what I'll do is then step back and listen to what the kids have to say, and only answer the questions that they have. So instead of trying to plug in information that they're not asking for, I just wait for them to ask me, or to ask each other.”
Shawn Chen, an English teacher at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, jumped right into the issue last Thursday during her senior seminar class.
“I can see all the faces have all the feelings,” Chen said as she showed her class a video of Wednesday’s violence. “They’re the ones inheriting this world and taking over. … So it’s good to let them work out amongst themselves what (this situation) all means.”
At El Segundo High School, junior Samera Eusufzai said many of her teachers altered their lessons based on students’ emotions.
Her class had the option to take time away from their computers, do independent work or have class as usual, Eusufzai said, and one math teacher showed a TED Talk about the importance of seeking news from different sources with different political opinions. Another teacher gave a lesson on how the attack was unconstitutional.
“We mostly had open and honest conversations about how we felt, and (teachers) shared a lot of their opinions, which I appreciated,” Eusufzai said.
Staff writers Beau Yarbrough, Tyler Evains, Robert Morales and Linh Tat contributed to this report.