As the contentious 2016 election season revealed deep divides in the United States, teachers across the country, including from the Lynch School of Education, have expressed concerns that negative and inappropriate rhetoric from presidential candidates on the campaign trail is impacting the behavior of students.
Last April, the Southern Poverty Law Center released an article entitled “The Trump Effect: the Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools” based on an informal online survey of 2,000 kindergarten to twelfth grade teachers. While other candidates were mentioned, the majority of responses expressed concern about the policies of President-Elect Donald Trump, including his promises to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport illegal immigrants.
According to anecdotal evidence, minority students are exposed to anti-immigrant sentiment from the media and peers, and sometimes develop fears of deportation and being separated from their families.
“A lot of kids do pick up on the fear and hatred directed toward them and their families,” said Sarah Bracken, LSOE ‘19, who is working in a first grade classroom this semester for her first pre-practicum.
Teachers also expressed concern that Trump’s use of derogatory language toward certain groups of people is encouraging increased hostility toward other political views, and even bullying.
“When adults are bullying each other for their political views, we are sending (children) a clear message that this is okay,” said Bracken. “We have to practice what we preach. We can’t expect them to stop bullying on their own.”
According to Bracken, the best way to counter the hostile political climate is to teach them to consider the world from another perspective.
“All different types of cultures, backgrounds, and family structures exist," she commented. "We need to make them aware of that and encourage them to live outside themselves and their own mindset.”
For educators, finding the right way to teach children about the election has become a challenge because of concerns that the personal attacks seen by children from presidential candidates would influence mock debates and elections in schools. Lynch School Professor of Teacher Education Ann Marie Gleeson spoke with students about how to encourage lessons on civic engagement in the classroom despite the controversial political environment during her “From the Ballot to the Classroom” lecture on Nov. 3.
According to Gleeson, teachers are attempting to remove hostility from their classrooms by focusing on learning about party platforms, fact-checking statements in debates, studying the election process, and comparing this election to past elections. They also encourage tolerance and civility by disciplining students who use bullying, racist, and xenophobic language.
The students themselves play an important role in maintaining these tolerant learning environments as well.
“I want to make sure that we are giving our kids the credit for recognizing that what they are seeing through the campaigns is bullying,” said Gleeson. “They are often rising to the occasion and recognizing they have to stick to the issues, not the mudslinging and personal attacks, in their classroom debates.”