Two years ago @WillHitchUVA and I were teaching a short course called Democracy in Danger. On the third day of class, January 6, a crowd of angry Americans tried to stop the democratic process and overthrow a legitimately elected government. They tried to kill the vice president.
We and our 350 students watched these events on our own screens. Classes were on Zoom in those days. But we all shared our fears and feelings over texts, emails, and Twitter as it unfolded. Will and I knew immediately we had to address what we were watching.
We had been texting throughout the events. We decided to record an emergency episode of our podcast, @DinDpodcast, which was the inspiration for the course.
And we convened the TAs so we were all ready to hold frank discussions of what we were seeing.
As students shared their thoughts we soon realized that this might have been the most cathartic and rewarding teaching experience of our lives. Our students rose to the moment. They were deeply thoughtful. They were also moved. Mostly, they were brave and wise.
Our students saw the struggle to restore, protect, and expand democracy to the United States and the world as a long process, one that will include major setbacks. Those setbacks will be violent and scary. Some will seem insurmountable.
But our students, as usual, led us to see that my studying what we see deeply and deliberately we can see openings and reasons for hope. We can see maps to improvement.
25 years of teaching young adults has taught us that we almost always learn more from our students than they learn from us. Growing old means risking growing calcified. We can grow too frightened to refashion the ideas that have worked for us in the past. We get jaded.
In our jobs, on the worst days, our students open us up. They lift us. They make us realize that they must carry some reasonable measure of optimism to make it through this world we have saddled them with.
So as I reflect on January 6, all the police officers who were killed and injured, all the members of Congress who stood tall and did their jobs, and all my fellow Americans who were just as appalled as we were, I think mostly of my students.
Will and I are preparing to teach Democracy in Danger again this spring semester. We are busy assembling the syllabus this week (disclosure: Professors ALWAYS do their syllabi at the last minute). So we have been reflecting deeply on ways we can guide students to think deeply.
We are just guides. They do the work. We can tell them how it's been. They will tell us how it will be.

The only people who disrespect American university students are those who lack the privilege of spending deep time with them. They are amazing.
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