By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – I’ve been teaching high school for twenty years and I’ve never seen students so tuned in to a national election before.
I teach in a high-poverty, inner city school with a very large ethnic population. We have a large number of black kids, Hispanic kids, Muslim kids, and then white kids that comprise our student population. Their greatest fear is that they will be “sent back” to wherever Donald Trump thinks they are from. I’ve tried to ease their fears but they are hearing otherwise from the adults in their lives and they are scared.
The Atlantic is running an article now about how teachers are using the election in their classrooms. One teacher, for example,
…turned to Harry Potter, specifically a line in which Dumbledore, the young wizard’s mentor, reminds the boy that “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” That lesson choice assumes that most of her students were feeling upset about the election results. … Many of the children are Latino and came from families worried about deportation.
Our school is rather small – about 650 kids, and we have always been like a family. Our students have always been the most accepting, most inclusive, most tolerant kids I’ve ever seen. Even in the face of this divisive election, they have not turned on each other as some schools are reporting. We are blessed, in that respect.
But I do wonder about what they are hearing outside of school.
The head of the National Association of School Psychologists, Kathy Cowan, says:
“Schools perform a stabilizing function,” Cowan said. “They have to deal with everything the country throws at them.” Children are also barometers of adult anxieties and behavior, according to Jeanice Kerr Swift, the superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools in Michigan. “Regardless of who folks voted for, the election has not been a positive and uplifting experience,” Swift said. But “we focus on learning and not on things that will be upsetting to [children].”
It’s true that schools are stabilizers for the myriad events going on in these kids’ lives and it can sometimes be a tricky business to strike the right balance between sticking to the curriculum and calming their fears. This of course varies with the age group. Above all it is important that as teachers we don’t project our own agenda or bias on our students.
That being said, this is a great opportunity for those teachers in history or civics classes to teach lessons on checks and balances, on the electoral college, on the very basics and foundations of our governmental processes which are all things many adults seem to have forgotten.
And the best lesson that can be taught is to accept defeat with graciousness, use it to regroup and refocus, and to channel your frustration in productive ways. Whereas Kathy Cowan said that “the election has not been a positive and uplifting experience,” I think we have the potential to make it so.
We don’t have to succumb to the name calling, the violence, the threats, the pettiness that we have seen from so many.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.