July 19, 2022

Nick Covington: “Current Events Do Not Belong in History Class”

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Nick Covington tells the story of what happened to him when he dared to teach students about uncomfortable current events.

It started in January 2021. In response to covering the events of January 6th with my students, I was called in to a meeting with my administration because an anonymous phone call accused me of saying “All Trump supporters are Nazis” and encouraging students to follow my social media where I was accused of saying the same thing. Neither of which was ever true. But this is where my troubles began.

Later that spring, in April, as part of my AP European History unit on the impact of nationalism, in addition to learning about Brexit and issues in modern nationalism facing countries like France and Poland, students learned about the events of Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right March” that took place in 2017, and we watched Charlottesville: Race and Terror to understand the motivations of white nationalists and the response of the local community. I gave students a heads-up on my Google Classroom page and frontloaded the video with necessary context (White supremacists are the greatest domestic terror threat). Throughout the video I would pause to provide context and help process what students were watching. The lesson ended, as it had every year I have taught it since 2018, and I went into the weekend believing it went well. In the 72 hours between class ending on Friday and beginning on Monday, I received no negative feedback from students or parents.

What followed were several meetings between myself, my union rep, HR, and building administration. While I was assured that this was not politically motivated, what came out in these meetings was that parents were concerned that the Charlottesville video “seemed to portray President Trump in an unfavorable light”.

When I arrived in the building the following Monday, I was immediately called into a meeting with my building principal, who told me that parents came to the building on Friday to say that my lesson “targeted” their children and made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. It was then that my building principal told me that “Current events do not belong in history class”. A statement I still wrestle with to this day. I left the meeting shaken but desiring understanding. So in the classes I taught later that day, I used an anonymous poll in class to gauge student reactions and process any potential discomfort that may have arisen. Students were very responsive and the discussion was productive. I have included a sample of their responses below. For this, I was yet again drawn into a meeting with my principal where a parent said their child again felt “targeted and unsafe” as a result of the conversation. I was also told that parents had gone to the school board and superintendent to try and get my license sanctioned and that I was forbidden from mentioning the word “Charlottesville” in class or referencing any of the content from the video. Our nationalism unit was cut short, and I was told I could not use any curricular material with students unless it was pre-approved by my principal until we could arrange a meeting with HR on this issue.

This is not an encouraging tale. Read the full story here. 

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