Even in a chaotic election year, young people—our future leaders—are rising to the occasion.
Celia Jiménez here, writing two weeks after what we witnessed on Jan. 6 has changed the standard we have for our democracy. It doesn’t look like a shiny trophy anymore, but one that shows some dents. William Arrocha, a professor of international policy and development at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, says it changes our global standing: “The United States has to find its place in the international community under new terms; they cannot longer think they are the cops of the world.”
Meanwhile, on American soil, parents and teachers face a titanic task: trying to explain the violence that happened at the U.S. Capitol to young people.
In reporting a story on how teachers will approach this moment in the classroom, I spoke to several local teachers about what they’re doing to create context and help students comprehend history in the making. I also spoke to Dr. Kerry Saunter, chief learning officer at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, nearly 3,000 miles but only a click away.
In the days prior to and after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the center has had millions of website visitors, with information-hungry people trying to find out more about the electoral process and 25th Amendment.
“Our job is to make sure you understand what’s going on and understand the Constitution,” Saunter says. To that end, the center produces videos, a weekly podcast called “We the People” and an interactive Constitution. Teachers can sign up for courses or request help or materials for their classes.
Saunter recommends parents should speak with their kids about what’s happening in our country in an age-appropriate way, and go straight to the source material—look at the Constitution. Teachers, she says, should question and encourage students to question information and seek trusted sources and evidence.
Locally, Monterey County Office of Education offers resources for civic engagement, history and social sciences for teachers and students. “We want students to have more access to civic education,” says Dr. Jennifer Elemen of MCOE’s Educational Services Department. “We want to empower them, to elevate their own voices, and organize together, see the changes that they want to bring about. It’s really about the future of our country, the future of our community, and the future of our children.”
During the 2020 election cycle, young adults were more engaged in politics than ever before, voting in record numbers across the country. Monterey County had record voter registration and turnout, over 80 percent. Young people were also elected to serve—in Salinas three young council members were elected; and in Rhode Island, David Morales, a Soledad native, became the youngest Latino state assemblymember in the country.
Even as we grapple with how to best teach history while it unfolds in real time, young people are already showing they’re ready to learn, and to lead.
-Celia Jiménez, staff writer, firstname.lastname@example.org