Like millions of other teachers across the country, Robert DeLossa has spent the last four years guiding students through this historic time in our nation’s history.
The Lowell High School history teacher continues to do so this Inauguration Day.
DeLossa, who is also social studies department chair at the high school, facilitated student-led discussions about the outcome of the 2016 election. The task at hand remains the same in 2021, even with a fully-remote classroom.
He’s asked his students to listen critically and empathetically to President Biden’s inaugural address and identify what his core priorities appear to be. The exercise’s purpose is to allow students to come to their own conclusions about what the new administration represents, he says.
Many of his lessons start with the Constitution’s preamble, where he specifically asks students about their interpretations of “We the People.” Their responses are “really all over the place,” he says, noting some students view the phrase as only people in power or white Americans.
When host Tonya Mosley visited DeLossa’s classroom in 2016, the political discussions happening in students’ homes were just as varied as their definitions of “We the People.” The classroom presented a clear mix of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters.
DeLossa uses the classroom space as a way to open conversation about polarizing political topics so students can hear each other’s point of view. Recently, a student with a grandfather who’s a “die-hard supporter of former President Trump” came to class with honest questions about the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
DeLossa says he used the opportunity to answer the child’s questions in a judgement-free environment.
“It’s also good for him and for other students to hear, for instance, from our African American students their feelings of the racialization of some of these events,” he says. “I think it’s good for all of them to be grappling with those sorts of issues in a place where they’re in a common endeavor to learn more about their country.”
This week, the “1776 Commission,” put forth by the Trump administration, released a report that claims Americans are being taught a false narrative about the nation’s founding that is “reckless” and “attempts to frame American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one.”
The professional organizations he belongs to — such as the National Council for the Social Studies and the American Historical Association — “have come out pretty clearly against the 1776 document,” he says.
“I think that a lot of the strife we’re seeing all around is this clash of ideas about who ‘the people’ are,” he says, doubling down on why it’s crucial to ruminate those three keywords that open the Constitution — “We the People.”
If we aspire to raise responsible citizens — a “bedrock idea in U.S. history and social studies” — then DeLossa says America needs to “face controversies head on” in and out of the classroom.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.