Slice of Life: Inauguration or Not?

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Eight years ago, we showed the first inauguration of Barack Obama to our sixth graders, live, and we got an angry call the day of the event from a father, who demanded we pull his child from the viewing. There were less-than-subtle racist overtones to the request.

I am trying to spark a conversation with my colleagues and administration over the question: do we show the inauguration ceremonies of Donald Trump next month to our sixth graders?

I even asked teachers on Twitter. Granted, the pool of contributors was small, but indicative. Or maybe it is more indicative of my “echo chamber” of friends in social media. But, I lean towards the “yes” — it’s an event related to a presidency race that we followed and wrote about all fall, and I teach in a town that voted nearly 50/50 Trump/Clinton in November.

I can put aside my own personal feelings (mostly) and view it as a learning experience (somewhat) and let my young students see how the transfer of power happens. I would be cringing the entire time, to be frank. But I could pull it off. I am a professional.

Then my wife, who is an administrator at a high school, noted that her school is also in similar discussions, but their fear over showing the event live to all students is that something disruptive or violent will happen during the live event, and there will be no way to filter the experience.

I hadn’t thought of that. I didn’t want to think of that. I don’t want to think of that. But I guess I have to. Sad, right? For now, I am leaving the decision in the hands of the administration, and seeing what their take on the matter will be.

One option is to let students “opt in” to watch the ceremonies and provide an alternative to those who don’t want to see it (but then we will be dividing up our student population by politics, I fear). Another is to show an edited version on the following Monday (the ceremony is on a Friday), which might be the more restrained approach.

What are you going to do? Why?

Peace (is always needed),

  1. Ugh. Thank you for trying to be open about what is not a normal “transfer of power”. You are more open minded than me. I will not be showing it Just mentioning his name, in my diverse classroom, initiates fear, confusion, and unease from my students. And to be honest, from me as well.

  2. Great question. I lean towards “no” as I just could barely bring myself to talk about the election with my students. If you do show it, maybe students can write letters to the new president about the issues in their heart. I’ll be interested to see what you do!

  3. I was amazed at the interest in my class of third graders who are not US citizens, bar 3, in the election. I will not be able to watch it live because of the time difference but think I would not in any case mostly because of the age of my students. Lots to think about, but with older students, I would show it.

  4. I haven’t thought about this question yet. I did not show previous inaugurations, so I probably won’t. I have shown clips afterwards which may be the better option. I am just not ready to face this reality yet.

  5. As one who lives in the DC metro area this isn’t a question. We don’t have school on inauguration day because they prefer to keep folks off the roads as much as possible.

    I’m sure there will be many conversations in my 3rd grade classroom about the inauguration (and likely the march the following day as well) as there were about the election before and after. As much as it hurts me to face it is happening and it is important for us to help our students understand, even as we are trying to do so.

    I’ll be curious to hear how this plays out in your school. Like you, the possibility of violence had not occurred to me. Your wife is a wise woman indeed.

  6. I was, still am, debating with myself on whether to watch. I have never seen a transfer faced with so much dread as this. I do not expect anything to happen and not watching will not stop it from happening.

    I like offering High schoolers the option to opt-in. Grade schoolers might be better served by a taped version that skips most of the pomp and focuses more on the circumstance of the event.

  7. Thanks for this thoughtful discussion. I was teaching in an elementary school eight years ago when we stopped everything in the upper grades to watch the inauguration. This year, in middle school, things are different. And not just in the political sense. We aren;t planning to show it, in part because of the politics, but mostly because we are on a schedule and it would put one class behind the others. It makes for a good rationale not to show it.

  8. Oh this is a hard one. I would want to show it but know that my past classrooms were full of students who would be fearful and worries as this change happens in our country. Things are so uncertain. The balance of power if thrown off creating situations that are hard to explain to young people.

    I guess I might wait and talk about it the next day. I like the idea of writing letters to the new President expressing fears and concerns as we move forward.
    Good Luck –

    • Thx. The population in our classrooms makes a difference. Mine, however, is mostly middle-class, white, suburbia. Those same fears you express if your students is all is very remote to mine.

  9. Prior to reading this post, I’d say, “forget about the inaugural this year.” However, you have given me an idea, and since I teach speech, I will flesh out this idea.

    I think it’s important for students to know what the inaugural is, so perhaps as a lead up to this years, show iconic moments from past inaugurals. Not all, but some. Of course President Obama’s must be included, but one of my favorites is Maya Angelou’s reading of “On the Pulse of Morning” at the first Clinton inaugural.

    Finally, I’ve been watching news since I was seven years old and question “protecting” children from the news. I wonder if our disengaged electorate would be less disengaged had they had earlier exposure to world events.

  10. I’m a high school/grad school teacher, so I’m not sure you’ll find this helpful, but here goes. I would use the next weeks to do a big study of the news and how we readers can determine fact & truth from the opposite– or at least determine the political points of view of the authors. I’d look at all kinds of rhetorical stuff that people use to make arguments– hyperbole, fallacies, all those good things I’d have to study before we started studying written, oral, visual news stories.
    I’d probably then give a hot topic as covered in several sources and see how many points of rhetorical moves or argument strategies and political orientations they could identify.

    I’d also have them take one issue and write opposite points of view of it– maybe ask peers to try to determine which position is closest to that of the writer’s (personal convictions make for stronger pieces of writing? perhaps an interesting experiment?) Then when they are fully primed, I’d have them watch the inauguration as reporters from some of the sources they’ve been studying– they’d pull those out of a hat. They’d be reporting on the inauguration (or an aspect of it). They would have to do research to be sure they fully understood the voice, tone, syntax, typical rhetorical moves etc. of their publication. That’s when I’d send home a letter explaining exactly what students would be doing. Or maybe sooner, depending on what your principal thought. After, there would be some kind of sharing metacognitive thingie. But I gotta say, you don’t get a teaching opportunity like this every day….

  11. Hm. Thoughtful conversation here. Thanks for the spark, Kevin. I lean towards show it as part of history’s first draft; the emphasis being on education, not endorsement. (Democracy is always an opt-in process on our shores, so that could still be the case with inauguration viewing at school.) I also see value in framing the viewing, conversation both beforehand and afterwards among staff/students. That time commitment, of course, may intrude on other school business — a challenge in itself.

  12. Great conversation! Thank you, Kevin. We showed Obama’s first inauguration. It was viewed as historic and celebratory to our school’s ethnically diverse population. A Clinton election probably would have been viewed in a similar light. Trump’s election has brought on a long of fear and loathing among my students. Just seeing him on the cover of Scholastic Magazine sets them off. We continue to read and listen to the news from various sources but viewing the election live will not happen in my 5th-grade classroom. I do plan to get our class in touch with our newly elected Congresswomen. They need to know we have voices in Washington that are there to serve them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *