Over the next month, teachers will be taking part in a social justice roundtable discussion in the CTQ Collaboratory and on Twitter with #CTQCollab
I was watching Meet the Press, one of my favorite news shows, this morning. Guests included those sympathetic to both campaigns. There was, however, consensus on one point: the current presidential campaign is the ugliest in recent history. Personally, I think it’s more likely to get worse — maybe a lot worse — than it is to get better.
What we’re seeing and hearing in the campaign is spilling over into our classrooms. According to Southern Poverty Law Center’s Trump Effect report: Close to 70% of teachers say 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. Over half say that they’ve seen an increase in ugly speech as a result of the campaign.
None of this is surprising, of course. Our classrooms are not isolated cocoons, cut off from outside influences. Whether it be the Kardashians, college football, or politics, our students bring what attracts their attention into school. And, in some ways, we should all be proud that our students are paying attention to the presidential campaign. Elections are the defining exercise of our democracy, none more so than the election of our president.
But therein lies the dilemma with this year’s presidential campaign. Although teachers typically take advantage of the election cycle to teach about how our government functions, there’s great reluctance to broach the subject this year. According to the Trump Effect study, almost half of the teachers surveyed reported that they were avoiding any talk of the campaign this year.
I’m among those who are torn about what to do. I’m an English teacher and would love to take advantage of the interest in the campaign season by having my students write persuasive essays explaining why they’re in favor of one candidate or the other. But I’m worried about doing something like this. I could say, “Be sure to keep it clean!” But how could I expect as much given the tenor of the campaign?
At this point, I’m just planning to play it by ear. Maybe I’ll find a way to engage the interest of my students in the campaign in a constructive way. Maybe the campaign will suddenly change its tone. Yes, and maybe the earth will stand still and stop revolving around the sun! As I said at the start, I think the ugliness of the campaign is more likely to get worse than it is to get better. So, my guess is that I’ll do my best to avoid it and content myself with encouraging my students to voice their opinions without name calling and to listen respectfully to those with whom they differ when it comes to less controversial subjects. Maybe, just maybe, if we all do this, the next generation won’t see another campaign like the one we’re seeing today.
– Emily Vickery is an English and Digital Literacy teacher in Floridaa.