By Amanda Litvinov, photo above courtesy of Gage Skidmore
Educators across the country have reported alarming incidents in which students are bullied by peers spouting anti-immigrant, anti-minority rhetoric they have heard during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, primarily from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his supporters.
“Build the wall!” chanted students at a high school basketball game in Indiana last month, referring to Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico. The same week, Iowa students from one high school yelled “Trump, Trump, Trump!” during a ballgame against a rival school whose student body is half Hispanic.
Two third-graders in Virginia taunted classmates in March by saying, “When Trump’s president, you’ll be deported.”
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Now, a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project confirms that the hostile tone and bullying behavior like that seen at Trump campaign events is having a profound negative effect on individual students and entire school communities.
Through an online survey, 2,000 K-12 educators answered questions about what they are seeing at their schools. Nearly 70 percent of those educators said students have expressed concerns about what might happen to their families after the November election, stating that most of those students are immigrants, children of immigrants, and Muslims.
More than half of the teachers surveyed have seen an increase in hateful language, with more than a third seeing an increase specifically in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant speech.
The survey questions did not name specific presidential candidates. But in the comments section, Trump was named five times more often than all the other candidates combined.
In their comments, educators expressed deep concern for targeted students, and many noted that they’ve never witnessed hate speech this pervasive.
“Students are hearing more hate language than I have ever heard at our school before,” commented a high school teacher from Helena, Mont. Another teacher reported hearing a fifth-grader tell a Muslim peer “that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president!”
Students are suffering panic attacks, fearful for their well-being and that of their family, and some no longer want to come to school because they believe that their classmates hate them. Other students, including some who aren’t being targeted, are confused and upset by the rhetoric they hear from presidential candidates and their classmates that conflicts with the American ideals of acceptance and freedom they have learned about at school.
Some middle and high teachers expressed concern that students talk about the presidential election and political process as a joke. Others report a rise in the number of students who are incapable of discourse, resorting to yelling to get their point across — modeling the behavior witnessed time and again as Trump and his supporters clash with protestors.
The report reveals another unfortunate aspect of the “Trump effect” — 43 percent of teachers surveyed say they are hesitant to teach about the 2016 presidential election, citing fears of stirring up students and facing accusations from parents or administrators of forcing students to engage in polarizing political discussions.
“Last election was amazing in my class!” commented a teacher from San Antonio. “We even learned about electoral votes using other first-grade classrooms. Not this year!! Not touching it!!!