What is the Trump Effect and what is it doing to the children of our country?
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance conducted an online survey of teachers across the nation to find out what effect the 2016 election is having on students. The results of that survey are alarming, though not unexpected.
SPLC was careful to point out that the survey was not scientific, but was comprised of responses given by approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers who are subscribers and those who visit the organization’s website.
Usually, a presidential election is an opportunity to provide an interactive, hands-on lesson in civics and the political process. Children in elementary through high school are greeted with classrooms festooned in red, white and blue, given the chance to have mock debates and engage in discussions about government and its role in the lives of our citizens. However, the responses to the informal inquiry illustrated how upsetting the 2016 election is to many of our nation’s schoolchildren, particularly children of color and children of immigrants, whether they are legal or not.
Teachers provided heartbreaking stories of the very real fears children are facing. The highlights listed are:
- More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
- More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
- More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
- More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.
The survey did not identify any candidates. However, the name Trump came up in more than 1,000 of the 5,000 responses, while less than 200 responses named Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
We all know the inflammatory rhetoric hurled by Donald Trump, but we may not be aware of the effect it’s having on the nation’s children, particularly those children who are in the minority. But children see and hear the news. They go online and see and hear the terrible things that have been said during this campaign season. And they absorb and personalize it and wonder when Trump will come for them and their families.
Some quotes from the article:
My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” says one teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslims. “They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.”
In North Carolina, a high school teacher says she has “Latino students who carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards because they are afraid they will be deported.”
In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher says a Latino child – told by classmates that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall – asks every day, “Is the wall here yet?”
Teachers reported an uptick in hate speech, including in elementary school. One teacher reported that a fifth grade student told a fellow student who was Muslim “that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all the Muslims if he became president!”
There has been an increase of bullying as well, undoing years of progress on that front. But when kids see a presidential candidate on television bullying those who disagree with him, it sends a message that it is acceptable behavior.
Instead of a learning opportunity, the 2016 election has become a flash point for the bigotry and hatred that has been simmering under the surface and finally bubbled into the national discourse. Teachers report students are having trouble sleeping, having panic attacks and breaking down in tears in the classroom at the mention of Trump’s name. A teacher in the state of Washington reported that a Muslim girl spoke of committing suicide after fellow students repeatedly shouted slurs at her.
Rather than providing a positive learning experience and engendering an interest in our system of government and how to make it better, this election has led many students to believe that the candidates are a joke, electoral politics is a joke; and they see no decent future ahead of them.
While some teachers have flat out decided to refrain from talking about the election, others feel it is their duty to try to allay the fears of their students. It’s a difficult call.
A Michigan teacher wrote, “I have thrown caution to the wind and have spoken out against certain candidates, which I have NEVER done, but I feel it’s my duty to speak out against ignorance.”
Several teachers reported that parents registered complaints when the issues of fact checking, values and critical thinking were raised in the classroom. In response, an Indianapolis high school teacher wrote, “I am at a point where I’m going to take a stand even if it costs me my position.”
A Washington state high school teacher made a stark admission: “I am teaching off the hook before anyone ‘catches’ me and puts me in a Common Core box; we are reading Howard Zinn, Anne Frank, Haig Bosmajian, Jane Yolen, Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and survivors’ testimony from the Holocaust and the genocides around the world. … I am making it as real and as connected to my students as I can. I feel like I am teaching for our lives.”
You can read the full report HERE. The questions asked of the educators are listed at the end of the article. Be prepared. It is an ugly picture of what happens when the scab covering intolerance and racism is ripped asunder and the festering wound beneath is exposed. And it is happening to the children of our country.