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Maine teachers discuss Jan. 6 riots with their students

Some districts wrote curriculums based on the riots. Others avoided the topic in class.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Samantha Drost has been working toward this day for an entire year.

As Central Aroostook High School’s social studies teacher, the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, shaped her curriculum for the following year. She spent its first-anniversary hosting discussions with students.

“Some key terms that I wanted to make sure they understood, like, what is considered upheld by the First Amendment? What does insurrection mean? And how did that play out?” she explained. “And, then, I just really stepped back. The kids have really good questions.”

She smiled when she spoke about her students asking questions. According to Drost, simple starting points about the violence of that day launched classroom investigations into constitutional law, Congressional responsibilities, election procedure, and more.

“We just had a discussion,” she said. “And, our discussion was, ‘What do you see in the pictures that you have questions about? What are you still wondering after a year?’ So, they had lots of questions about how does the court process work for those who are being tried? How do we, as future voters, really make sure we understand the process of how the electoral college works?”

In Maine, individual school districts dictate their curriculum. It’s a level of autonomy Joe Schmidt is quick to reassure. Schmidt is the social studies specialist and acting coordinator of secondary education for Maine’s Department of Education. He directed NEWS CENTER Maine to a page on the DOE website that offers resources for teachers “engaging in civil discourse about contentious topics.”

A more specific memo on the site from Jan. 11, 2021, suggests methods to foster safe discussion about the insurrection. But, Schmidt said there was no guidance shared with districts this year. 

“Some districts may spend a little more time today talking about this,” he said. “Other districts...may not talk about it at all.”

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows was two days on the job when she watched the insurrection. 

“I was here in this office, and it was very startling,” she said.

As Maine’s top election official, she believes it is crucial for Mainers to not only remember that day but to educate themselves on elections to come.

“Get to know your local elected officials,” she said. “Find out if you can volunteer at the polls. Get to know us at the [Maine] Secretary of State’s office and at the Legislature.”

She hopes Mainers, and Americans, involve themselves in elections in good faith, so this moment in history never repeats itself. 

Meanwhile, Mainers like Drost intend to continue teaching history as it happens.

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