The morning after the 2016 election, teachers across America headed into the classroom like they do each day. Many didn’t have much sleep, and many were feeling emotional about the outcome. They also didn’t know how their students would react to Donald Trump’s victory. But they did know that their students heard the same words spoken by Trump as the rest of the world heard.
They heard claims about Mexicans as rapists, Muslims as anti-Americans, and they heard talk about groping women without permission. These words were spoken by the president-elect, and rubber-stamped by many in his party.
It’s been a few weeks since the election and we now know how students are responding to ‘Trump Talk.’
The Southern Poverty Law Foundation and Teaching Tolerance recently completed a survey of over 10,000 of America’s teachers, counselors and administrators. The results of the survey outlines what people who work with children have observed in their schools since the election. The data reveals that the election has had a “profoundly negative impact” on America’s schools, and that these impacts are likely to be long lasting.
According to Teaching Tolerance,
“Over 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. These incidents include graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, fights and threats of violence.”
These increases in incidents indicate an alarming new trend.
Here is an example of what one middle school teacher observed in her Indiana school:
Since the election, every single secondary school in our district has had issues with racist, xenophobic or misogynistic comments cropping up. In the week since the election, I have personally had to deal with the following issues:
- Boys inappropriately grabbing and touching girls, even after they said no (this never happened until after the election).
- White students telling their friends who are Hispanic or of color that their parents are going to be deported and that they would be thrown out of school.
- White students going up to students of color who are total strangers and hurling racial remarks at them, such as, ‘Trump is going [to] throw you back over the wall, you know?’ or “We can’t wait until you and the other brownies are gone.”
- The use of the n-word by white students in my class and in the hallway. Never directed towards a student of color (that I’ve been told yet), but still being casually used in conversation.
As a result of these increased incidents of bigotry, bullying and harassment, about half of the teachers surveyed are reluctant to talk about the election or current events surrounding it and some are being told by their principals not to talk about it at all.
As a former teacher, and current professional development coordinator for teachers, this wave of hate and intimidation is very worrisome. Teachers need to create safe, cooperative communities in their classrooms where students feel able to take risks, make mistakes, and have meaningful and honest discussions. Hate speech encourages violence and that is supposed to be challenged in schools where children are taught not to bully. Schools should foster an environment of respect, of kindness, and of inclusion.
When this is threatened, the very nature of education is in danger. Teachers need to be able to have courageous conversations about complex issues such as race, bias, stereotyping and current events. When they can’t have these open discussions with students — voices are not heard or valued. Student conversations go underground, and away from trusted adults. This is when misinformation spreads, when biases and stereotypes go unchallenged, and when behaviors cannot be monitored or managed.
If students cannot discuss the election, how can they participate in discussions and solutions about complex issues such as climate change? We’ll soon have a climate liar as president. How will discussing the scientific facts about climate change happen in classrooms across the country? Will teachers be told not to discuss anything that the president elect doesn’t agree with?
Our students deserve safe, open, respectful, inclusive, kind and accepting learning environments where they can discuss current events, feelings, and passions. Students are capable of learning about challenging issues and moving towards solutions with service and project based learning.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs teaches us that students who are hungry, unsafe, or threatened, cannot attend to learning. To limit their experiences is to limit their very potential. Students who do not feel safe, heard, or important do not learn.
This report from the field is very troubling indeed, and should concern every parent, educator, and citizen of this country. ‘Trump Talk’ makes our schools unsafe and that is not healthy for our communities, and especially our children.