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Oct. 14, 2016

 

As we approach November 8, many educators across our
district have been charged with teaching about the election season. In fact,
every school in IPS has been encouraged to hold a schoolwide mock election on
November 7, using the Indiana Kids
Election
curriculum.  However, in
this particularly contentious election season, a lot of us feel overwhelmed by
the idea of discussing this topic with children. Micah Nelson TOY

 

I personally began to feel anxious about approaching these
topics with my students over the summer. As we all watched the news this
summer, we saw campaign rhetoric growing more and more dangerous and divisive. We
also saw a shooting in an Orlando nightclub; continuing tensions over police violence
toward African Americans; a sniper shooting five police officers in Dallas; and
one of our strongest allies, Great Britain, choosing to leave the European
Union during the Brexit vote — a decision many fear was based in xenophobia. I
happened to be in London on the day of the Brexit vote. The disappointment for
Londoners over this decision was palpable.

 

 

As I grappled over how to discuss these topics with my
middle schoolers when we returned to school, I began to seek out resources that
would assist me. 

 

 

For the past 10 years, I have required my students to report
on current events every week, so I am no stranger to tackling controversial
topics in my classroom. In fact, I normally love it.  However, this year feels different, particularly
in regard to the election season and the constant negativity being revealed
during coverage of this year’s election.

 

 

As a social studies teacher, the teaching of elections and
the democratic process is my responsibility, and this is now my fourth presidential
election to teach. I can honestly say this one scares me the most.

 

 

Teaching Tolerance, a division of the Southern Poverty Law
Center, conducted a survey of more than 2,000 teachers in the United States. These
teachers were asked to talk about how the 2016 presidential election is
affecting their schools. Here are some of the highlights:

 

 

  • More than two-thirds of the
    teachers reported 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.
  • More than half have seen an
    increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than one-third have observed
    an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant
    to teach about the election.

 

 

 

 

 

These results are not alarming to me. I have seen an
increase in uncivil discourse in my own classroom this fall. I have seen
students concerned about their own safety after the election.  And, unfortunately, I have seen students become
frustrated and disillusioned by the democratic process.

 

 

So, how do we tackle this one? Colleagues, I do not have the
answers. So far, I’ve allowed students to express their concerns and made sure
everyone follows our classroom essential agreement to respect everyone’s ideas.
I know that I will continue to run my classroom as a safe space for all
students. This means that we cannot allow the same kinds of rhetoric students
may hear on television to enter our classrooms. I know that I will continue to
allow all students to express themselves equally. Students of all backgrounds
will have the opportunity to have their voices heard and respected. I will
continue to face controversial topics head on.

 

 

I fully believe that we cannot shy away from teaching about
this election because it may make us uncomfortable. If we don’t model for
children how to properly discuss hot-button issues in a civil, respectful way,
where will they learn it?

 

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. How are
you approaching this election season with your students? Do you have a favorite
resource or strategy that could benefit us all? 
Please share with me at nelsonml@myips.org.

 

I will compile
your responses for a special edition of the Teacher of the Year Blog.
Hopefully, we can work through this together.