Teaching About the Capitol Hill Riot

Introduction

On January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. was stormed during a violent riot in which a mob of Trump supporters set out to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes and make President-elect Joe Biden’s victory official. This was not only an assault on the Capitol but an assault on democracy in the United States. A week after the riot, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for incitement of insurrection. Though Trump was acquitted by the Senate, he is still the only president to have been impeached twice. At this point, more than 500 people have been arrested, but police are continuing their attempt to identify over 300 additional suspects. Teaching about the Capitol Hill Riot is important because from every disastrous event, there are lessons to be learned. Students will better understand why this riot was a threat to democracy and the importance of peaceful transfer of power.

Resources

There are plenty of resources available online for teaching students about the Capitol Hill Riot. Though a few of the resources below are slightly outdated because they were published before the inauguration of President Biden or the second impeachment trial of former President Trump, the ideas and information in them are still relevant and usable! Educators should also check out Teaching About Peaceful Transfer of Power and Teaching About Democracy!

Lesson Plans

  1. Teaching Resources to Help Students Make Sense of the Rampage at the Capitol: The New York Times provides lesson plan ideas, activities, and Times materials for exploring the causes and effects of the Capitol Hill Riot on democracy in the United States. The piece walks teachers through how to help students understand what happened and react to it, investigate President Trump’s responsibility, explore why democracy requires a peaceful transfer of power, examine assertions of a law enforcement ‘stark double standard,’ consider the role of the news media and the power of language, and more!
  2. Three Ways to Teach the Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol: PBS Newshour Extra offers a classroom resource on three ways to teach the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In this lesson, students will watch an eight-minute video, read a brief summary, and  answer discussion questions about the attack, media literacy, and comments made by Trump and Biden. In addition, there is a list of other resources teachers may be interested in at the bottom of the page.
  3. Dr. Yohuru Williams on Using History to Teach the Capitol Riots: This lesson from PBS Newshour Extra has been republished by Share My Lesson, and it is based on their Jan. 7th Zoom in which Dr. Williams discusses teaching about the Capitol Riot using history. In this lesson, students will first watch Dr. Williams talk about his work as a history teacher in Washington D.C. and later participate in a follow-up discussion. Then, they will watch a clip of Dr. Williams discussing the use of primary sources in teaching about the riot before finally answering discussion questions on Capitol Riot and history, focus questions, and media literacy questions.
  4. How to Teach the U.S. Capitol Attack: Dozens of Resources to Get You Started: Education Week provides dozens of resources to get teachers started on how to teach students about the U.S. Capitol Attack. This article does not include an all-encompassing list or a compilation of complete lesson plans but is instead intended to generate dialogue and ideas for teachers as they develop their own curriculum. The resources are grouped into several themes: social-emotional learning/processing difficult events, media literacy, dialogue and classroom conversations, some sample ‘first day’ teaching plans from teachers, and more.
  5. Teaching About the Capitol Riot – Resources for Classroom Conversations Surrounding the Capitol Insurrection: iCivics provides an article discussing how to teach about the Capitol Riot and offering resources for classroom conversations surrounding the Capitol Insurrection. The article explains what to do when there’s no perfect lesson plan and how to lean on civic education foundations. Then, it lists several teacher resources for teaching about the Capitol Riot, including resources on peaceful transfer of power, the Constitution, the electoral process and executive branch, and news literacy and misinformation.
  6. What Happened During the Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and Why?: Facing History and Ourselves offers three activities focused on what happened during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and why. In the first two activities, students will use an iceberg diagram to synthesize what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6th and outline multiple causes of the insurrection. There are excerpts from articles and reports along with other resources for students to utilize. The third activity asks students to reflect on what they learned in their journals or on an exit card.
  7. The New York Times – U.S. Capitol Riot: The New York Times provides many resources on the U.S. Capitol Riot. Not only are there articles on the riot, but there are also visual investigations analyzing key moments of the riot. These may help students better understand what truly happened at the Capitol on this chaotic day.

Articles

  1. 6 Ways to Help Students Make Sense of the Capitol Siege: EducationWeek has published an article explaining six ways to help students make sense of the siege of the Capitol. The article discusses combating misinformation in class, breaking down traumatic events for young learners, analyzing symbols of the riot, putting the riots into historical context, understanding free speech and censorship, and preparing for what is ahead. 
  2. Inside the Capitol Riot – An Exclusive Video Investigation: The New York Times has analyzed thousands of videos from the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol in order to understand how and why it happened, and this article presents some of their key findings. The piece discusses the multiple points of attack, a delay in the lockdown turning deadly, the makeup of the mob, the domino effect, the mob echoing the president, and the officers taking back the Capitol.
  3. Capitol Insurrection Updates: npr offers updates on the Capitol Insurrection. The most recent updates include the lawyers for an 18-year-old Capitol rioter wanting him to be released to his parents, the architect of the Capitol outlining $30 million in damages from pro-Trump riot, and the Justice Department charging suspected oath keepers in plot to attack the Capitol.
  4. D.C. Officials Ignored the Lessons We Learned in Charlottesville. Here Are 3 Things Leaders Should Do to Help Prevent Future Attacks: Time provides a brief article explaining how the D.C. officials ignored the lessons that we learned in Charlottesville and proposing three things leaders should do to help prevent future attacks. Michael Signer, who served as mayor of Charlottesville from 2016 to 2018, describes what took place in Charlottesville and the lessons to be learned from this violent event and the subsequent independent investigation. He then goes on to discuss how these lessons were ignored by those in charge and led to the siege of the Capitol.
  5. Capitol Riots – Five Takeaways From the Arrests: BBC News offers an article discussing the five takeaways from the arrests made following the Capitol Riot. These takeaways include that ties to right-wing extremist groups were few, more rioters came from ‘Biden counties’ than ‘Trump counties,’ the crowd was not a young one, many of them say Trump motivated them, and military members and veterans were involved. For educators who want their students to learn about the types of people who were present at the riot, this article will be very helpful!
  6. More Than 535 Arrested So Far in Capitol Riot Case, While More Than 300 Suspects Remain Unidentified: CBS News has published an article discussing how more than 535 people have been arrested so far in the Capitol Riot case, but more than 300 suspects still remain unidentified. The article walks through the number of defendants who have pleaded guilty, the charges that are being brought against them, the makeup of the defendants (i.e. occupations, home states, gender, age, links to extremist groups), and the continued search for hundreds of suspects.
  7. The U.S. Capitol Riots and the Double Standard of Protest Policing: U.S. News provides an article on the U.S. Capitol Riot and the double standard of police protesting. When African Americans and their allies are peacefully protesting in support of Black Lives Matter, they are met by aggression and violence, while white far-right demonstrations are met by far less law-enforcement muscle. For educators who want their students to learn about the disparities in police response based on race, this article is essential!
  8. Lessons From the U.S. Capitol Riot: Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy provides excerpts from four Duke experts who spoke in a virtual media briefing the day after the attack on the Capitol invasion, the role of military during the insurrection, threats to democracy in this moment, fighting misinformation on social media, politicians and lies, the Biden administration combating domestic terrorism, learning harsh lessons from the insurrection, and more related topics!

Conclusion

Teaching about the Capitol Hill Riot may be daunting, but it is so important. Because this day was an unsettling one for students and educators alike, educators should make sure to always allow students time to share their thoughts and feelings about the riot. Though the initial shock has passed, students, especially those on the younger sides, are likely to still have uncomfortable feelings about this event. In addition, educators should emphasize how the police response to this riot was vastly different than that in response to peaceful protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. NPR’s Protests in White and Black, And The Different Response Of Law Enforcement and U.S. News’s The U.S. Capitol Riots and the Double Standard of Protest Policing, which is explained in more detail above, will be helpful in doing so!

Additional Resources

  1. Insurrections in American History – 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries: PBS NewsHour Extra provides a lesson plan on insurrections in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. By taking a look at four insurrections that have taken place in U.S. history, students will be able to better understand the historical context of the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6th. This lesson will also have students analyze the roles race and class have played in the attacks.
  2. Connecting Post-Civil War Mob Violence and the Capitol Riot: This lesson plan from PBS NewsHour Extra connects post-Civil War mob violence to the Capitol Riot. The activities will have students assess the significance of anti-democratic violence in U.S. history, understand the role of racism in the violence, and find similarities between the time periods.

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