Four N.H. Teachers On How They Plan To Talk About Charlottesville

Aug 29, 2017

The events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month sparked a national dialogue about racial tensions in America.

It’s a conversation that's continuing in classrooms across the state, as another school year gets underway.

We asked four New Hampshire teachers how they’re planning to incorporate discussions about the violence that occurred in Charlottesville into their classrooms. We asked them to record themselves and send in their thoughts; here’s what we heard:

James Gaj, Nashua High School South

“I currently teach a current events class and that covers anything, current events, anything that's going to pop up in the news, and Charlottesville is definitely something that fits the mold. What we're going to do is we're going to have to talk about that the first day of school because it is in fact so relevant to today, especially when we're talking about things like extremism and hate groups, domestic terrorism, people like Timothy McVeigh and Randy Weaver.

“One thing that we do study is the psychology of what makes people act the way that they do. We know that these people that showed up for this rally were neo-Nazis and the KKK and people like David Duke. And we want to know what makes them tick, what made them get there, how come they act the way that they do. And also it's really important for the kids to understand this kind of thing because the world that they live in doesn't contain people like this right now. They are in for a rude awakening when they graduate and go out into the world that they're going to meet a bunch of different people. And that's one of the things that I really try and explain and open their eyes to.”

Kim Carrozza, Nashua High School South

“I'm going to be talking about Charlottesville in my fall classes this semester because I want to show the continuum of race relations in America, beginning with reconstruction, coming through Jim Crow and the great migration in the 20s through the 40s, the civil rights events of the 50s and 60s, right up to the present day in Charlottesville. I want students to be able to trace the chain of events. What happened? How did we get from reconstruction 150 years ago to Charlottesville? Why haven't things changed? So I'm preparing by finding primary sources, both written and visual, so that students can trace the history of race relations so that they can look at it from a political, economic, and social viewpoint so that they can compare pictures of past race incidents like lynchings to Charlottesville and protests that we see going on today.

I often hear from students, 'Why do I have to learn about history? It's not important. It doesn't impact me.' Charlottesville is why we have to learn about it.

“Can they solve the problem? Will moving the monuments really solve the problem? This hits into my core subject US history because it shows students the connectedness and relativity of history in their daily lives. I often hear from students 'Why do I have to learn about history? It's not important. It doesn't impact me.' Charlottesville is why we have to learn about it. If they don't understand how events started in the past, they won't understand why these events are happening today. You can't solve a problem if you don't understand its complexity: its political complexity, its violence complexity, its social complexity, and its economic complexity. That's what I'm hoping to impart to my students and the hope that they'll walk away with a better understanding of why these things are happening and what they can do to help solve the problem.”

Sara Bennett, Lebanon High School  

“I am an English and social studies teacher at Lebanon High School. This year, I co-teach teach a class called humanities with Andrew Gamble and our plan is to discuss Charlottesville as either an introduction to looking at humanity through the lens of the United States government and how it operates or to discuss it during our free speech unit, talking about the First Amendment. As far as preparing goes we have been reading articles, looking at photographs, thinking about strategies that will get our students to empathize and sympathize with those who have different viewpoints than they do. I think especially being up in New Hampshire, where it's not as diverse as the South and our student body is primarily white, to look at Charlottesville in a new lens will be really helpful for students to understand different perspectives.

“I think it's important for students have a dialogue about what is happening in Charlottesville, what has happened, what's happening across the south with the Confederate statues because they're entering into the world in a year. They're not going to have school. They need to have informed opinions and knowledge about political events. I think they think that politics a lot of times is something that's separate from them and it's not personal and it's sort of these guys making rules that they don't totally understand. Events like this kind of bring it to them and allow them to have their own opinions and think about who do I want to vote for, how does this stuff affect me, why does it matter.

Lisa Petersen, Granite State Arts Academy in Salem 

“We are a public performing arts charter school. This coming year I will be teaching 9th 11th and 12th grade English.  Last year I taught 11th grade humanities which was U.S. history and English. I will have those same students as 12th graders this year and going into the school year, I know at this point that I will be discussing and opening up the dialogue of the events that occurred in Charlottesville with them. I have been making sure I keep myself informed so I am able to answer any questions they may have and to ensure we can have an open and respectful dialogue about the events. I also subscribe to Teaching Tolerance, both online and in print, and frequently look to them for appropriate ways to approach such discussions in the classroom.

"The Common Core asks us to make our students into critical thinkers, and when an event like this happens it can't be ignored. We live in an information age when students are seeing both full accounts but also sound bites and it's important to discuss how that can influence our society too. What is the difference between a sound bite and the actual article that comes from? When I get the question like why are they so angry and what do they think is being taken from them, I ask students what do they think. Honestly, the answer is usually nothing is being taken from them and anger gets them nowhere. There is no place for that kind of hate. We must keep the dialogue open to young people.

"Here's something I honestly grapple with all the time: I'm constantly asking myself am I the right person to teach this. Am I the right person to have this discussion? And I don't know. Perhaps I'm not. But I do know that I'm willing to and I'm constantly striving to stay informed to get my students to ask thought provoking questions. I’m going into my 20th year of teaching and in my tenure I have tried to always ensure my classroom is a safe space.  I have no tolerance for words of hate in my classroom environment.”