Students react to Capitol attack

At Quakertown Community High School, students received the opportunity to express their thoughts in productive conversation.
Posted on 01/07/2021
Teacher Jason Anderson sits in a chair in the front of the classroom and speaks to students. By Gary Weckselblatt

On Wednesday afternoon and evening, High School Band teacher Frank Parker’s eyes were glued to his television at the shocking visions of a mob violently taking over the Capitol. The next morning, as his Wind Symphony class began, he asked students if there was anything they’d like to talk about.

Instantly, he said, “hands went up.”

“They were amazing,” Mr. Parker said of the conversations. “Some were outraged that something like this could happen in our country. Others felt it wasn’t so surprising or unexpected. But during the discourse, students were very supportive of one another.”

Similar discussions went on throughout classrooms at Quakertown Community High School Thursday, a day after lawmakers were forced to hide and ultimately flee the Capitol after a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump gained illegal entry to the building.

“As we attempt to make sense of the world around us we each interpret last night’s events through the lens of our individual experiences,” Principal Mattias van ‘t Hoenderdaal said. “Today, many of us are upset, angry, and confused. By providing a platform where our students are able to express their thoughts and feelings we have a unique opportunity to learn from the perspective of others.

“It’s not just about talking, it’s about listening; not just about educating those who we disagree with, it’s about learning from them. In the midst of this chaos we are provided a historic learning opportunity in which students will continue to develop their worldview through inquiry, in pursuit of finding truth. I encourage us to reflect, learn, and grow in our charge to develop our students into men and women of sound character and integrity. Today I am proud of our students. I am proud of our teachers.”

In Jason Anderson’s AP European History class, the teacher played the role of moderator, allowing students to share their thoughts and respond to things others said. The active conversation included students seated in the classroom and those attending virtually.

“What would you consider them, rioters or terrorists?” asked Mason Olivares, who answered his own question: “They committed acts of treason. Let’s not beat around the bush. They’re terrorists.”

Andrew Boyer said “We’re at a crossroads right now. But make no mistake, this wasn’t a freak incident. This didn’t start brewing four years ago.” He said the attack on the Capitol has been decades in the making. “Now they’ve been brought into the light,” he said.

Students also compared the National Guard’s response to an earlier Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., with this week’s event of “middle-aged white men. Why didn’t they take more
precautions?” one student asked. “Why didn’t this protest have the same preparation?”

Said Lanie Kalbach, “I argue that electing Donald Trump president was the end of the Republican era. When we grow up, we’re going to be the left and we’re going to shift everything left.” She believes the death of George Floyd “was a huge catalyst” in the awakening of young people to politics. It got “people thinking about police, about the role of government, how the system oppresses people.”

Vaughn Vail said he holds views represented in both parties. “These protests are going to bring about a new order,” he said. “The GOP is on its last legs. The Republican Party is fractured. It’s unfortunate to see. But I’m not going to abandon my views because the GOP has become a monstrosity.”

Conner Ziegler, a virtual student, said “Social media has become so polarized. We’re going to grow up in a world without (political) moderates. We’re going to have extremes.”

After class, Andrew said he appreciated the opportunity for students to have a “healthy” discussion. “When such major events happen in our democracy, I appreciate being able to discuss them in a safe environment, where nobody gets out of hand and everyone is respectful. Our generation will be the one to help solve this.”

Mr. Anderson said, “We’re all Americans trying to figure it out. Offering students a forum to think critically in school is a responsibility I have. I’m not anymore intellectually savvy than they are. I’m struggling as much as they are to make sense of it.”

Assistant Principal Adam Dinney, who oversees the Social Studies department, said teachers did an outstanding job “allowing the students to be front and center in today’s discussions. It’s important for students to unpack what’s going on in the world. Certainly in these unprecedented times, having the willingness and ability to have those conversations really helps students understand their feelings and really helps us heal.”

During these conversations, several educators advised students to seek information from more than one source. As Social Studies teacher Jonathan Pallone said, “If you only look at one show, we’re going to remain divided.”

Assistant Principal Kim Finnerty, who heard the conversation in Mr. Parker’s class, said “I Iove the idea of students being engaged in discussions about their world and how divisive our politics are. It’s vitally important that we teach respectful discourse.”

As for Mr. Parker, he admitted that during his nearly eight hours of TV time Wednesday, he spent some of it watching the 76ers. After the game, he heard Coach Doc Rivers say, “This is America right now, and it’s better than it was 10 years ago. And it may not feel that way right now, but young people are engaged and they’re voting, and it’s beautiful to watch.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.
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