By KELLY PATRICK SLONE,
Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper
Donald J. Trump
Though they are not yet old enough to vote, some children are acutely aware of what could be at stake in the upcoming November presidential election, and it’s had an impact on classrooms across the country.
A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — a nonprofit, nonpartisan civil rights organization — says many minority students are concerned about how life could change for them and their families if presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wins the presidency. The trend, which the report dubs the “Trump Effect,” was found in survey responses gathered from 2,000 K–12 teachers across the country. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of survey respondents said students in their schools — most often immigrants, children of immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans and other students of color — have expressed concern about a Trump presidency.
Comments from the educators shine light on the children’s concerns, and though Trump has been outspoken about plans to police immigration and has openly shared his less-than-positive views about Hispanics and Muslims, Black students have also expressed concern.
“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” one teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslims said. “They think that if he’s elected, all Black people will get sent back to Africa.”
An elementary teacher in Oklahoma wrote, “My kids are terrified of Trump becoming [p]resident. They believe he can/will deport them — and NONE of them are Hispanic. They are all African-American.”
Some teachers said Black students have even mentioned the possibility of a return of slavery in a Trump-led America.
A high school teacher in North Carolina said her Latino students’ fears are not just hypothetical and hinging on a Trump election win — their behavior indicates they already feel insecure. “Latino students … carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they are afraid they will be deported,” the teacher said.
In some cases, teachers said Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened school bullies, and educators are seeing an uptick in hate speech. “Many teachers reported an increase in use of the n-word as a slur, even among very young children,” the report says.
A kindergarten teacher in Tennessee said a Latino child, since being told by classmates that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall, asks daily, “Is the wall here yet?”
In many cases, respondents said students have taken steps backward in their abilities to engage in civil discourse, and while some educators are seeing unprecedented interest among students eager to learn more about the political process and the current election, they are wary of broaching the topic.
In response to the statement “I am hesitant to teach about the 2016 presidential election,” 43 percent of K-12 educators in the survey answered in the affirmative, a trend the SPLC found troubling.
“What’s at stake in 2016 is not simply who will be our 45th president or how the parties might realign, but how well we are preparing young people for their most important job: the job of being a citizen,” SPLC wrote in the report. “If schools avoid the election — or fail to find ways to help students discuss it productively — it’s akin to taking civics out of the curriculum.”
For those who do decide to teach about the election, there is pressure to keep their own personal beliefs and opinions out of the lessons. Still others, like one Indianapolis teacher who responded to the survey, have decided to lay it all out. “I am at a point where I’m going to take a stand even if it costs me my position,” that teacher said.