Post Election: What do we say to the children? November 9, 2016

The 2016 presidential campaign contained some of the most hateful language and messages most of us have ever experienced. We know that bullying, teasing and name-calling based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and family make-up greatly increased in schools during the campaign and hurt many children. Now the election of Donald Trump to the USA presidency threatens to oppose the values of anti-bias education and reverse many of the gains resulting from the Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements of the past 50 years. His campaign and election have given hope and encouragement to numerous organizations and individuals, mainly, but not exclusively, white, who share his negative beliefs about anyone whose race, ethnicity, region, and sexual orientation don’t fit with what they consider the correct way to be.

As Richard Cohen, President of the Southern Poverty Law Center declared, “White supremacists who backed his candidacy are jumping for joy. They think they now have their man in the White House. … We can’t afford to take [their] statements as the ravings of extremists on the fringes of society. They are now at the gates.”

Even more disturbing, as soon as the election results were known, racist attitudes began turning into hate actions – both verbal and physical assaults.  These hate actions have been directed against children as well as adults. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has tracked the racist actions of organizations for many years, wrote two days after the election that “Across the country, in schools and on the streets, reports of hate incidents have already begun to spike”. Pulling from news reports, social media, and direct submissions at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website, the SPLC had counted 201 incidents of election-related harassment and intimidation across the country as of Friday, November 11 at 5pm.  These are being directed against African Americans, Latinos , Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people and women.

Outrageously, the SPLC is finding that the most commonly reported location where incidents of harassment occurred were K-12 schools.  Examples targeting children include:

Second and third grade Mexican American children in Fullerton, Ca reporting to their young sibling’s child care teacher that they were told by classmates to pack their bags because they had to get out of the country. (personal communication to LDS)

In Colorado, a teacher reports that “Death to Diversity” was written on a banner displayed on our high school library for people to see, as well as written on posters across campus -(SPLC))

In Washington state, a teacher reported that “Build a wall” was chanted in our [school] cafeteria at lunch…. “Get out spic” was said in our halls. (SPLC)

Examples targeting adults include

A parent from El Salvador was in a Greater Boston school and told to get out of here, you are in “Trumpland” (personal communication to DLK))

A female Muslim student at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) was attacked by two white men on a stairwell and robbed of her laptop, books and purse. (LA Times)

Such hate behavior harms children directly, when they are targets, and indirectly, when they see or hear about someone else being a target. No matter how families of your children may have voted, our school/classrooms must be hate-free zones. We have to intentionally and pro-actively do everything we can to ensure that the goals of anti-bias education are fully implemented and celebrated during a time when our children are hearing and experiencing hate messages and may be experiencing tension anger, pain, etc. from family members.  We also have to work extra hard to ensure that all of our children feel safe and are comforted when they are hurt.

We can say something like, “In our country we vote for the person who is going to be our leader. Not everyone votes for the same person. In an election people have different viewpoints and we are not always happy with who becomes president. However, the president is supposed to be the president for everyone. We hope that the adults in charge of our country can work together to benefit ALL Americans.

 We know that some people are saying and doing hateful and hurtful things to other people. We also know that there are many people who do not like those hateful words and behaviors.  In this classroom/ in this school, I /we (all staff) will make sure that everyone belongs, is safe, cared for and treated fairly. If you feel unsafe, if people say things that are not nice to you, you can come to the adults. Our job is to keep you safe and to be brave and stand up to any unfairness/injustice that comes to our community.”

Here are some more guidelines to support children during challenging times:

  • Encourage children to ask questions.
  • Be a good listener. Pay attention to words and Look for the underlying meaning.
  • Answer children’s questions immediately and directly, with information that is appropriate to their developmental level and experience.
  • Accept complexity. Recognize that there may not be simple answers, but still ones that can help children. We want to move beyond either-or thinking. Be aware that some children will be receiving messages that the election result is welcomed, with speech that does not include hate language.
  • Avoid responding to current events and issues in highly emotional or dramatic ways. Even if you are angry or upset, try not to let your own feelings influence how you pay attention to and interpret what the children are saying and feeling. But do let the children know that it is ok to be scared (angry, sad, etc.), while also comforting them and helping them sort through their feelings and actions.
  • Provide resources to help children manage fears or uncertainties. Include resources that talk about people who have worked together in the past to make life safe for everyone.
  • Engage the children in creating ways they can make themselves and each other feel safe and happy in the classroom and school.

As social justice educators, it is our obligation to not only support the children but their families. Families may also be targeted for their social identity, may be fearful of deportation. We need to reach out and let families know school is a safe place for them too.  We also need to work with and support our colleagues and staff who share the responsibility of educating and caring for our children and families.  We have the responsibility and the opportunity to be proactive in how we support our children and families during these challenging times. Take the long view. Be optimistic. Model resiliency. We need to hold the light.