Teaching and Promoting ‘Good Trouble’ in Wake of ‘Bad Trouble’

Dear Atlanta Public Schools Family,

Like many of you, the events at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. this week disheartened me deeply. Words fail me in my attempt to condemn the actions. I, like millions of other Americans, unequivocally denounce the actions against our government.

I believe that when anyone among us resorts to violence, insurrection, and hate, we have failed. Thankfully, Congress came together only hours later to complete the essential democratic process of certifying the presidential election. Still, I am painfully aware that there are many more feelings of concern, anger, frustration, or confusion that might exist, especially within our children.

As your superintendent, I want to speak to our collective duty to focus on one of the most critical responsibilities: the education of our youngest citizens.

Civics and Citizenship textbooks of the past found in the archives of Atlanta Public Schools

For our nation to remain strong, it is essential that we teach our students the values and processes involving civility and civic engagement. As they learn about the history of our nation, they must also come to understand implicitly all aspects of citizenship, including both the benefits of being an American and the responsibilities. Admittedly, I am not sure we always do enough.

I am encouraged, however, by such recent efforts in our district as the Good Trouble Voter Campaign in partnership with When We All Vote. This campaign, launched in advance of the 2020 General Election last November, aimed to educate and inspire APS students and families about the importance of voting. It honored the late Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who once said: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” 

As part of this effort, the district made it a priority that every APS student who is eligible to vote is registered in time for the election. From September 25 to December 7, the campaign registered 927 new student voters. Additionally, a number of our students became ambassadors and volunteered at precincts across the city to assist with the election effort.

APS Good Trouble Voter Campaign

While we applaud this effort to inspire strong citizenship and “good trouble,” we must be cognizant that we must all work together to do more to prevent other types of trouble – “bad trouble,” especially that which threatens our nation and the American way.

To that end, Atlanta Public Schools recently created the Equity and Social Justice Center to guide our work to remedy opportunity and learning gaps and to create a barrier-free environment, which enables all of our students to graduate ready for college, career, and life. I am certain this effort will also ensure we do more to help create bright futures for our youngest citizens. Tauheedah Baker-Jones, our first Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer, provides her own reflections below.

Finally, it is critically important that we engage with our young scholars about what they are thinking and how they are feeling and encourage discussion and solutions around how we can all play a role in healthy, positive, and impactful actions as human beings and citizens. Our Student Support Services and Social Emotional Learning teams have gathered resources for our students, families, teachers, and staff to help with discussions, and they are provided below as well.

It is our time to support each other. As we strive to do more, please remain safe and Be Well.

Yours in Service,

Dr. Lisa Herring

Statement of Reflection from Tauheedah Baker-Jones, Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer:

As someone whose role is in service of ensuring that we equitably and systemically live out our nation’s democratic ideals and promises to our children, I too was deeply troubled by the events at our nation’s Capitol.  

However, I remain optimistic and hopeful that these events will not stain the reputation of who we are as a nation. The bi-partisan unity demonstrated by our state in holding the line and asserting the integrity of our voting process gives me hope. The election of our state’s first African American senator makes me optimistic. The nearly thousand new APS student voters who exercised their voice this election gives me resolve.  

We are a nation that prides itself on being democratic and pluralistic, through a declaration that all men are created equal and a credo that out of many we are one. As educators, we help to create citizens who understand the value of these ideals — and who embody them through social justice. The decisions we make every day– what we choose to teach, how we interact with students, how we treat families — all of it—plays a crucial role in how children come to see the world and engage with it. 

In my role as Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer, I look forward to leveraging the power that we have as educators in shaping a more perfect union because this is key to ending racism and these recent acts of violence. My conviction is all the more confirmed that if we want to see a more equitable and racially just society, we must indeed teach to change the world. 

Resources for Reflection and Discussion:

Education Week article about SEL in wake of U.S. Capitol assault

Education Week: How to Teach the U.S. Capitol Attack: Dozens of Resources to Get you Started

Materials from Facing History:

National Association of School Psychologists – ‘Helping Children Cope with Terrorism – Tips for Families and Educators’

ABC News/Good Morning America – ‘After deadly US Capitol breach, 5 tips to talk to kids and ease their anxiety’

NPR: How to Talk to Kids About the Riots at the US Capitol

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