#Charlottesville What Do We Teach Our Students?

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August 13, 2017 by Dr. Robbie Barber

First, I need to be clear.  The fact that people are marching to yell things I consider completely unacceptable and carry symbols of organizations that Americans fought against saddens me beyond belief.  It also angers me.  I fear for my students, my teachers, and my own family.  But we need to be prepared to talk to our students who need help understanding the dizzying array of social media and news.  This is an attempt to address key issues and help people organize for helping their faculty, staff, students, parents and communities process this event.

Step 1: Explain the events in order

Friday evening (8/11/17), a white nationalist/white supremacy/alt-right group marched through the University of Virginia’s campus.  Students who protested were surrounded by marchers.  The students are being hailed as heroes for facing such a large group.


Saturday, a planned gathering of white nationalist group and those rallying in opposition turned violent.  Protesters were shoving and in some cases brawling with alt-right group.


Picture from:




charlottesville3Then a car driven by a member of the white nationalist group drove his car into a crowd, killing at least one person and injuring many others. (picture from: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/Injuries-at-University-Virginia-March-440032083.html)


Step 2: Explain the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights

How do we handle this information?  Start with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The first amendment is here:  FREEDOM OF RELIGION, SPEECH, PRESS, ASSEMBLY, AND PETITION

GALE Opposing Viewpoints database has information on Freedom of Speech:  Freedom of Speech (2003 article)

This article was print in April, 2017 in the Chicago Sun-Times in reference to the planned Nazi march in Skokie, IL, home of many survivors of World War II concentration camps: Lessons in Free Speech 40 Years After Nazis Planned Skokie March: http://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/lessons-in-free-speech-40-years-after-nazis-planned-skokie-march/

Step 3: Discuss the importance of words

One of the things you can point out in this exploration is how the Supreme Court has changed its opinion on allowing Nazi symbols over time.  You might also discuss the change of titles from white supremacists to white nationalists to Neo-Nazis to  alt-right.

Step 4: History of faces being covered or uncovered

According to the Smithsonian,  the Ku Klux Kan (KKK) didn’t always wear hoods: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ku-klux-klan-didnt-always-wear-hoods-180957773/

In 1890, when Jim Crow laws were codified, they stop covering their faces.  “…as their prejudices had been successfully codified into law— meaning there was no need for lynch mobs to hide their faces and identities.”

Step 5: Hijacking symbols

Several signs at the rally showed the hockey team, Detroit Red Wing’s symbol.  Many on social media were upset and expected the team to strongly denounce the use of their symbol.


NHL Statement on using Red Wings logo

Another issue is that a number of the people rallying were wearing hats or shirts with ‘#MAGA’ which stands for ‘Make America Great Again’.  Understand that no matter what you personally feel about 45th president’s campaign slogan, co-opting the slogan to justify hate is not acceptable.

Check the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) for additional hate symbols in their database: https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols

Step 6: What did the leaders do?

Now look at the current situation.

President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville:  http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/12/politics/trump-statement-alt-right-protests/index.html

Summary of the event and announcement of a “state of emergency” in Virginia:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/12/us/charlottesville-protest-white-nationalist.html

GOP Senator Cory Gardner’s statement that President Trump doesn’t call the white supremacists evil:  http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/346343-gop-senator-rips-trump-over-charlottesville-statement-call-evil-by-its-name

If you need more resources, please contact your school librarian.  We’re trained to find resources, explain situations and give teachers and students support.



Additional References:

NPR put together a list of resources.  I like the identity chart as a start. http://www.npr.org/2017/08/14/543390148/resources-for-educators-to-use-the-wake-of-charlottesville

The video, “Don’t Be a Sucker” by the U.S. War Department, was created in 1943 to explain the rise of fascism.   It was produced by the U.S. Signal Corps and distributed by Paramount Pictures for viewing in civilian movie theaters in 1943 and 1947.

This was posted on Alternet.org website which is sometimes rated very left leaning

Melinda Anderson provides this open source document of anti-racist articles


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