Teaching in an election season like no other

As I head into planning for the fall, the question that I can’t get out of my head is this: How will I teach about the election this year? And the cascade of questions that follow: How will I prepare my students for being in schools in this election season? How do I give them the confidence to engage with students spouting rhetoric they heard on television?  What do I do if a student complains because I bring up the election?  What are my protections as a faculty member?  Do I have any?

Every other year when I’ve taught during an election, I use the historic moment as a teachable one: comparing education policies, examining rhetoric, critical reading of media coverage. The list of standards I could cover by digging into a political campaign was long. That hasn’t changed, necessarily, but this isn’t a normal election year.  Trump is a demagogue. The current president called him unfit for the office.  And both previous Republican presidents are remaining silent or offering criticism of the policies that Trump espouses, like isolationism and nativism.  His positions and rhetoric are not okay. But can I say that outloud in my classroom?

I have a responsibility to prepare my students for teaching.  And preparing them includes preparing them for the difficult conversations they may have to have with parents.  I’ve had them do role playing around topics like transgender students, racism, sexual orientation, bullying, criminal histories, medical challenges.  Not only is this year different, but now several of the topics we normally approach are political.  But if I don’t support the teachers in learning how to confidently approach these topics, and potential challenges, in their classroom, where will they learn how to do it? And what risk am I taking by preparing them?

At this moment, before I’ve done a deep dive into planning for the year, I do know I’m going to use Teaching Tolerance‘s extensive collection of election year resources.  These resources because the Southern Poverty Law Center, of which Teaching Tolerance is one component, did a non-scientific survey of 2000 teachers and found that two-thirds have students who were afraid about what might happen to their families after the election.  That is not okay.  Whatever I do, and the extent to which I dive explicitly into election year politics, I’ll have them read the report of the survey.  We’ll talk about how children can’t learn when they’re afraid.  And, hopefully, they’ll approach the idea that they–as the teacher–need to stand up for those children who need a voice in their corner.  And I’ll read my faculty handbook very carefully.

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