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Three Rivers teacher uses Jan. 6 anniversary for lesson

Illinois Valley High School social studies teacher Ryan Lathen used the U.S. Capitol riots to teach his students about news literacy

As a national conversation on the one year anniversary of the attack on the United States Capitol played out on Thursday, at least one Southern Oregon classroom talked about it, too.

For Illinois Valley High School social studies teacher Ryan Lathen, who teaches U.S. history and government, there was never any question the attempt by protesters to decertify the 2020 presidential election results on Jan. 6, 2021, would be a topic of discussion in his class.

But it was not so much the constitutional process of Congress convening to certify that President Joe Biden was the winner as it was “news literacy” that Lathen chose to make the focal point of discussion marking the year after the incident.

In being news literate, Lathen wants each of his students to be “a critical consumer of information.”

“Just because one person might say one thing and half the people say a different thing, we have to verify on our own — and that’s not using one source,” he said.

But Lathen declined to say which sources of information were “good” or “bad,” including outlets like FOX News or CNN.

“You’ve got to look at an array of sources,” he said. “If I’m looking at more of a left media outlet, and more a center and look at more of a right, and if they’re kind of saying the same thing, well, then, I’m getting what might be something I can go with … to come to a more informed conclusion about what happened.”

The events of Jan. 6 ties into news literacy because “we are being bombarded with many different things,” including the idea that opinions are “coming across as factual.”

“But we have to be able to distinguish that,” Lathen said. “Because of this world in which we live in, that is why (Jan. 6) is a good way to teach and remind us about the need for verifying … sources that you’re reading.”

Incorporating news literacy into a classroom discussion about a controversial issue is, in fact, what nonprofits like Facing History and Ourselves suggest for teachers as they navigate discussions about Jan. 6 and other controversial issues.

“(M)isinformation about the election contributed to the insurrection that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021,” the nonprofit’s website stated. “Students should understand that established news sources are less likely to spread misinformation, since they have processes for vetting stories before publishing.”

The Mail Tribune found policies from numerous local school boards stating instruction on “controversial issues” was permissible.

Three Rivers’ policy, for instance, says inclusion of those topics are appropriate as long as they are “informative.” It asks teachers to refrain from giving their personal opinions on a matter before or during the discussion “until” students can find factual information, interpret it “without prejudice” as well as “reconsider assumptions and claims.”

In terms of Jan. 6, Lathen noted that many of his students did not seem to remember the attack on the U.S. Capitol a year ago, but they were shown images and TV footage as part of Thursday’s discussion. None of them misbehaved for the duration of Lathen’s class.

“That’s why controversial topics aren't as controversial as they seem in a school setting,” Lathen said with a laugh. “We were trying to go over basic, factual things of what happened during that day.”

When the school day ended on Thursday, Lathen didn’t have any regrets discussing Jan. 6.

“I don’t think you should shy away from topics that might stretch you — that is how we grow,” he said. “Even if they’re controversial, we need to learn —and I think the classroom is the perfect place to learn — how to talk about controversial topics without arguing or fighting.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.