Today’s bloggers are Carl A. Grant and Paul D. Grant. Their article, “A Failure to Educate: January 6, 2021, and the Banality of Evil,” is in the current issue of The Educational Forum. It is available free for the month of April.
Few events in recent American history have affected the American psyche as January 6, 2021. On that day, a mob of more than 2,000 supporters of President Donald J. Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D. C. in an attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes and certify the election of Joseph Biden as president.
“Not since the Civil War had the country failed to effect a peaceful transfer of power, and no other candidate for president had purposefully contested an election’s results in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was fair and free,” Senior fellow Stanford University political scientist Francis Fukuyama (2022) argued. Besides possibly overthrowing the United States government, the insurrection included ugly expressions of racism and antisemitism acted out by many of the trespassers and far-right extremists. It has led to arrests of more than 775 defendants from nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The effects of January 6 have increased hate and extremism in the U.S as threats and targeting of institutions (schools, school boards, election boards), political figures (Anthony Fauci, governors Sisolak and Whitmer), and symbols have become mainstream. Also, this event has not only had domestic repercussions, but international repercussions as it signaled a decline in American global influence and power. Fukuyama (2022) asserted that America as a global beacon of democracy was severely tarnished because of the insurrection: “The U.S. could not effect a peaceful transfer of power after an election, and that is a precedent that has already reverberated around the world.”
Teachers of teachers and future political and government leaders have a duty and responsibility to future generations and to American democracy to teach lessons on January 6, an event that lives in infamy just as the attack on Pearl Harbor and 9/11. However, unlike the prior two tragedies, which were attacks on the nation from without, January 6 was an attack on the nation from within, carried out mostly by conservative, white Trump supporters. Because the attack came from within, and because Trump is currently presumed to be the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, teachers must not avoid discussion of January 6 and they must help students to understand the important role they play in maintaining American democracy and how January 6 will be thought about in years to come. America cannot afford “business as usual” or “a waiting period,” nor should it be taught as a historical event of the past, but one that continues to unfold. During classroom discussion, attention needs to be given to the fragility of democracy and to white supremacy, “contextualizing white supremacist movements of the past and present” (Dillard, 2021), noting mob violence was commonplace after Reconstruction, thus shattering the dream of a multiracial/multicultural democracy.
However, as we write, white conservatives and anti-government groups are promoting legislation that seeks to limit what teachers from kindergarten through graduate school can teach regarding how race and racism influence U.S. laws, politics, and culture. Members of the Republican party are declaring that critical race theory (CRT), January 6, and teaching the realities of democratic life instead of the ideals of democratic life are off-limits in schools (Stitzlein, 2022). Severe penalties for violating CRT legislation can be imposed on school districts, teachers, colleges and universities, and administrators.
How can educators teach lessons about significant historical events that require the inclusion of discussions about racism, antisemitism, and the rise of fascism? In our article, “The Banality of Evil: A Failure to Educate,” we recommend teaching January 6 through the lens of an event in World War II and a James Baldwin movie review. We use Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” to compare the January 6 insurrectionists to the average German citizens who supported the Nazis during WWII. Also, we contend that James Baldwin’s 1973 review of The Exorcist provides an explanation for why the average white American seems to have a high tolerance for social injustice. White Americans have, over the centuries since 1619, seen and participated in so much violence that it is commonplace, and white society is numb to violent acts against African Americans, other People of Color, and members of minority religions. We argue that Arendt and Baldwin can help educators and students to see and understand the factual reality of events even as white conservatives try to hide or distort reality.
Dr. Paul D. Grant is an associate professor of political science in the School of Liberal Arts at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where he teaches American Government, State and Local Government, and Georgia Politics courses. His published and presented research topics include race, ethnicity, and politics, legislative studies, and state and local government and politics. Dr. Grant currently is engaged in several research projects involving lynching in Georgia and urban agriculture. He also hosts a monthly program through Gwinnett County Public Library that covers issues on race, diversity, and inclusion entitled Community Conversations.
Dr. Carl A. Grant is Hoefs-Bascom Professor in the Department of Curriculum, and former Chair of the Afro Studies Department at the University Wisconsin-Madison. He has authored or edited more than 40 books and has written more than 100 journal publications. Professor Grant’s recent books include: Du Bois and Education: Black Intellectual Thought in Education, with Keffrelyn and Anthony Brown; Intersectionality & Urban Education: Identities, Policies, Spaces, and Power, with E. Zwier; The Selected Works of Carl A. Grant; and The Moment: Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and the Firestorm at Trinity United Church of Christ.
Dillard, C. (2021, Feb 19). “Teaching the Historical Context of January 6.” Learning for Justice. Teaching the Historical Context of January 6 | Learning for Justice. 3/17/2022.
Fukuyama, F. (2022, Jan. 5). “One single day. That’s All It Took for the World to Look Away From Us.” The New York Times. Opinion | The Impact of Jan. 6 Is Still Rippling Throughout the World - The New York Times (nytimes.com). 318/2022.
Fukuyama F. (2022, Jan.6). Quoted in Patsy Widakuswara, “The Global Legacy of January 6.” VOA (Voice of America). The Global Legacy of January 6 (voanews.com). 3/182022.
Stitzlein, S. (2022). “One year later: We must teach about January 6.” Phi Delta Kappan. One year later: We must teach about January 6 - kappanonline.org