the country say students are so troubled by the inflammatory rhetoric of the
presidential race that addressing the election in schools is essential. At the
same time, offensive behavior on the trail is making it increasingly difficult
to incorporate the campaign into classrooms, especially for teachers of younger children.
Fifth-grade Los Angeles Unified School District
teacher Kristine Shahine, who is passionate about nourishing a love of
democracy in her students, says she completely changed the way she taught the
election this year.
“To say that it’s
a challenge would be a gross understatement,” she said.
After a thorough introduction to
the electoral process, Shahine instructed her students to watch the first
presidential debate. As they watched, the class communicated on a group portal,
answering her questions and commenting between each other in real time.
“It was really fascinating and
they loved it!” she said.
But by the time the third debate
came around, she felt she couldn’t “in good conscience” risk exposing students
to the unpredictable content.
“I said ‘boys and girls, I just
feel I can’t assign this. You can watch it with your parents, but some of these
topics are very offensive and really above your understanding,'” Shahine told Mom.me.
teachers are attempting to focus on process and policy to bypass the
candidate’s often shocking behavior, Shahine says this was also
challenging because "with Donald
Trump it’s hard to even discuss his policies. Everything that
comes from him is more of an attack or responding to some slight.”
In the end she realized, “I just
have to move away from this election.”
The girls are very affected and feel
very hurt by some of the comments that have been made.
She turned to historical political
figures as better examples of America’s political system than the current
“I showed them debates from the
past. We did a whole lesson on past debates and about what behavior is
considered stately and what is considered dignified,” she said.
Shahine said the election did
prompt constructive dialogue about race relations, immigration and appropriate behavior, but she said many of her
students were genuinely worried about the election’s outcome.
“I think it has impacted the girls
the most," she said. “They are very affected and feel
very hurt by some of the comments that have been made and feel great pride in
the fact we may have a (female) president.”
While Shahine wouldn’t reveal
to students who she was voting for, she felt she had to point out that certain
things they heard are simply unacceptable.
“Some of these racist,
misogynistic comments, I have to tell them that I think are wrong. It has
nothing to do with politics,” she said. For Shahine, it was vital to
address her students' fears about the future.
“I tell them I worry about the
same kinds of things,” she said. “It shouldn’t be belittled.”
Huge numbers of teachers report
they are also finding it difficult to address these problems. A Teaching
Tolerance survey of 2,000 teachers showed the 2016 campaign is having a very
negative effect. Teachers said immigrants and Muslims students were scared
while others were copying politician’s violent, racist rhetoric.
“We’re deeply concerned about the level of fear among
minority children who feel threatened by both the incendiary campaign rhetoric
and the bullying they’re encountering in school,” said Southern Poverty Law
Center President Richard Cohen in an introduction to the report. “We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and
now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump.”
“Honestly, I just can’t wait until it’s over. The campaign is ruining a lot of classes.”
In a recent article in the New
York Times, teacher Brent Wathke from Wisconsin echoed Shahine’s experiences,
calling the election “a total mess.”
“Honestly, I just can’t wait until it’s over,”
Wathke said. “The campaign is ruining a lot of classes.”
He too decided not to show his
12-year-old students the third debate. He has also avoided television ads and
political cartoons, as their content was simply too inappropriate. Instead he
is focusing on guided discussions in small groups, with many reminders not to
behave like the real presidential candidates.
Wathke said the atmosphere
among students was so heated he feared staging a mock debate, as students could
mimic the insults they heard on the media.
High school teacher Daniel Jocz
of the Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles told Mom.me he hasn’t changed the
way he is addressing the election, which he says has produced some very
teachable moments for older students. At the same time, he says many of his
students are scared.
“Many of my undocumented
students have expressed genuine concern about the prospect of being separated
from their families,” he said.
Jocz said the conflictive
atmosphere of the election and the candidates' scant respect for facts have
definitely heightened tensions in his classroom.
“The sweeping generalizations
about immigrants, Muslims and other groups does nothing but create division
and oversimplify extraordinary complex issues,” he said.