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If you would’ve asked me any time before this week, I would’ve told you the idea of any large group of people storming the Capitol and living to tell about it was absurd. It wouldn’t be logical that the chambers containing the elected leaders of a global superpower could be breached by mere mortals. I guess I was wrong.

I underestimated the power of white nationalist indignation. Proud Boys and other variants of Trumpanzees got in the building and left it a mess of scattered papers and broken glass.

Inspired by the President of the United States, and many members of his morally paralyzed political party, masked flag-waving right-wing kooks stormed the capital and looted it of various artifacts. Among its pillaged waste lay our general sense of national security.

Five people are dead, including a police officer who died due to blunt trauma to the head, leveled by the lethal combination of an unhinged hillbilly member of the million-moron march and a steel fire extinguisher.

A Trump-devotee who previously served in the military was also killed, as she attempted to break down the door that would have put her in direct contact with members of Congress.

A YouGov Poll of 1,000 adults finds that 45% of Republicans support the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol, and nearly 70% of them believe the pro-Trump mobs are no threat to democracy.

When nearly half of your people believe a mass smash and grab in Washington, D.C. is an appropriate response to imaginary voter fraud, well, as they say in the South, bless your heart.

When I wrote last month that ignorance will kill us all, I couldn’t have known that the actual killing would start so soon. But, it’s here. We collectively deserve much of it for our tolerance of avarice, greed, racism, sexism, militarism and moral relativism. We must act quickly to end our glib reliance on these deadly addictions.

That inelegant take on our situation is the best I can do for now. So much more could be said about it, but why? After viewing hours of hyperbolically captioned cable news, I could easily rant about how unprecedented these times are, how fragile our democracy is now, and how we’ve lost all ability to be shocked by anything anymore; but what does that solve? Nothing in my estimate.

Years ago, during the 9/11 terrorist attack, I learned from a superbly experienced military crisis consultant that panic never solves a problem. Cool heads win. When something overwhelming and traumatic happens, take stock of what’s what, put things into context and act in accord with your best mind.

So, along those lines, I retreated today to my mission of opening doors to learning for our children, so they grow up to be people worthy of a great participatory democracy. I used my #FreedomFriday podcast with my brother, Sharif El-Mekki, to discuss what educators can do to help students make sense of the violence at the Capitol. We framed the discussion thusly: “What do we teach students about the difference between just and unjust insurrections?”

Sharif had amazing feedback on how to (1) establish a caring environment where students feel safe and loved long before you need to engage them in touch discussions, (2) use thoughtful questions strategically to help them think through their thoughts on major events and (3) practice the subtle art of gently probing the parts of their views that they feel the most certain about.

This is advice we should all take to heart.


Christopher Stewart is CEO of Brightbeam, a public education advocacy nonprofit. In 2018, he founded Wayfinder Foundation, a nonprofit that invests in grassroots anti-poverty and education activism. In 2013 Chris became the founding Executive Director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), a cross-sector network of Black leaders working to develop and implement an urban policy agenda across five northwest states. Chris blogs and tweets under the name Citizen Stewart and publishes at Citizen.Education. He lives in rural Minnesota.