Essay: What happened at U.S. Capitol was disheartening but there’s an opportunity for learning

The events that took place Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol were, to say the least, disappointing. While it was fascinating to witness historic events right before our eyes, it was also disheartening to watch. Personally, I still feel a very real sense of anger and disgust. I’m left struggling with how to address this with my own children (fortunately, they are still very young, so I have some time), so I can only imagine that the parents of my students may feel the same way.

As educators, we are often confronted with the age-old question from students:

“When will we ever need this stuff in the real world?”

Well, the answer is “NOW.”

It’s often difficult to get students to understand the importance of effective dialogue, and how to persuasively communicate their ideas. So as disheartening as it was, Wednesday’s event provides us with an awesome opportunity to help students learn these skills and process what they saw with compassion and empathy.

As the principal of Central Middle School, my job is not to push ideology — or my world view — onto our students. My goal is to ensure that when students walk through the schoolhouse doors, they are coming into a safe space where their thoughts and ideas are heard and valued without judgment, to provide an environment where the adults model tolerance and understanding so that our students will give each other that same respect.

Our task as educators is to get students to challenge others and themselves and learn to understand different points of view. Wednesday’s events reinforced for us that we must put more of an emphasis on how to “respectfully disagree,” without it resorting to insults and violence (which can prove very difficult in a world dominated by social media).

So we will embrace the opportunity to help our students appropriately navigate through this time with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.

Parents entrust their children to us to help them grow into good and productive citizens and, as disturbing as Wednesday was, it will provide us the opportunity to do just that.

Shawn Shackelford is principal of Central Middle School in Port Huron.

Click HERE to read more about his work in the community in 
Grace and equity: How Port Huron's Central Middle School has reduced racial discipline disparities.
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