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My college students and I are watching democracy erode in real-time

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As a highschool historical past instructor, I interact with my college students concerning the significance of democracy. The values of participation, illustration, participating in public discourse, and difficult authoritarianism in all its varieties are concepts that we connect with our classes every day. We’ve mentioned, for instance, the labor motion of the late nineteenth century and the Black Freedom Motion of the Fifties and Sixties.

These conversations have felt notably resonant recently. Final week, we marked the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot, and our suburban New Orleans college district elevated a person who marched to the Capitol that day — somebody who has written that academics have “no values” and “no work ethic” — to its board. Although he has since resigned, that the Jefferson Parish College Board ever put this man ready of energy speaks volumes about this place and second.

Headshot of man with a goatee in a blue dress shirt.

John Guzda
Courtesy photograph

I bear in mind clearly how on Jan. 6, 2021, one in all my colleagues rushed into my classroom to inform me that I “would possibly need to activate the information.” As my college students had been working independently, I rapidly checked the information on my laptop and made the choice that we wanted to cease what we had been doing and “witness historical past” ourselves. Collectively, we watched because the insurrectionists ran up the Capitol stairs.

“Mr. Guzda, that is fascism isn’t it?” requested one pupil.

Sure, I replied, including that the entire world was watching.

“If most of these individuals seemed like us, they’d be shot wouldn’t they?” requested one other.

I checked out my predominantly Black and Latino college students. “I see and know why you might be saying that,” I stated. “You in all probability aren’t unsuitable.”

The remainder of that day is a blur, however what I do bear in mind is that exterior of those observations and questions, the classroom was very quiet. It was not crammed with the banter, laughter, and joyous power that often permeate our room. I might inform by the appears on my college students’ faces that they understood the gravity and historic nature of what was occurring.

Right here, too, my college students had been studying about democracy — and its fragility.

In our group, we all know this all too nicely. The identical college board that put in a person who attended Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021 rally after which marched to the Capitol had beforehand taken the extraordinary measure of eliminating most people remark interval throughout college board conferences. This modification occurred within the fast aftermath of Hurricane Ida, when a lot of the general public was out of state and reeling from the influence of a devastating storm. This coverage represented one more instance of the erosion of democracy.

The anti-democratic habits of the Jefferson Parish College Board has additionally been on show with regards to problems with race. Regardless of pleas from the group — together with social research academics who signed letters to the district — the majority-white college board has not modified the names of a number of colleges that also honor white supremacists, reminiscent of Sen. Allen Ellender, an ardent segregationist, and Alfred Bonnabel, an training official who supported the Confederacy and owned enslaved individuals. In a faculty system that predominantly serves Black and brown college students, it’s egregious that there hasn’t been a lot as a fee to look into the title modifications. It’s evident that some individuals in energy don’t perceive the generational and historic trauma that lots of our college students and academics face.

Is it any surprise I’m seeing so many Louisiana academics (and academics across the nation) go away their jobs? Given the dearth {of professional} courtesy. Given the obsession with standardized testing. Given the mounting workload and the low pay.

It isn’t as a result of we don’t love our college students and our work. It’s typically due to choices from out-of-touch boards, district leaders, and state officers. Whilst we, academics, try to instill democratic values in our college students, it will possibly really feel like democracy is leaving us behind.

John Guzda is a fierce advocate for public colleges. He serves because the social research division chair at West Jefferson Excessive College in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

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