By Amanda Litvinov
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Educators know that students have a much harder time learning when they are anxious and afraid.
That’s why educators are speaking out about the negative effects that the hostile, at times hateful, rhetoric emanating from Donald Trump’s campaign is having on the kids in their classrooms. The “Trump Effect,” as it is widely known among educators, is stirring racial and ethnic tensions even among elementary-age school children.
The educators we spoke with identified Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant proposals—which include threats of mass deportations and a pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico—as drivers of conflict between students parroting his ideas and minority students (immigrants or not) who are targeted.
Even Trump’s campaign bumper sticker was enough to incite an incident in Mike Patterson’s auto shop class at South Tahoe High School in South Tahoe, California, last spring.
Students routinely bring their own vehicles in to work on during class, Patterson said. “Last spring a few students brought cars with bumper stickers in support of presidential candidates, and it prompted some truly appalling discourse,” Patterson said.
The incidents usually started when white students talking about the wall Trump has promised to build on the Mexican border, directing their comments toward Hispanic and Latino classmates.
“I would actually hear things like, ‘After we get Trump elected, you and your family are going to the other side of the wall,” Patterson said.
Patterson intervened as soon as he heard such comments, explaining that such comments amount to threats to other students’ well-being. Usually, it was enough, but a few times he did have follow-up conversations with parents, Patterson said.
“In my 29 years of teaching, I’ve never heard this kind of bullying until this election. And it wasn’t a couple of isolated incidents. It dominated what kids were talking about throughout primary season.”
More than half of the 2,000 educators who participated in an online survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center last spring reported an increase in hateful language, with more than a third seeing an increase specifically in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant speech.
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.
Those findings are in keeping with the stories educators shared with EducationVotes.
Here’s what other educators around the country have witnessed:
At first, my students were fascinated by Donald Trump. They would repeat things he’s said about “getting rid” of people. They thought it was funny to see him yell at people who disagree with him. But then he mocked a reporter with a disability. I asked my students to think about how they feel when someone makes fun of them for things they can’t control. It was definitely an “ah-ha” moment for my fifth-graders.
–Carole Gauronskas, elementary EBD paraeducator, Ketterlinus Elementary, St. Augustine, Florida
Normally, I invite my students to discuss elections because there is a respectful tone even if they disagree about the candidates. But this election I’ve seen too many students spouting nasty things Donald Trump has said, about immigrants especially. There has been so much inappropriate language and disgraceful behavior, it has been very disconcerting.
–Cynthia Meier Lota, fourth-grade teacher, Richard E. Byrd Elementary, Glenrock, New Jersey
“My middle school students were confused and frightened by Donald Trump’s threats about deportation. Ninety percent of my students are African-American. The way they understood it, Trump hates them and wants to send their families away, too. I walked them through the election process, the role of the president, and the fact that there are laws in place to protect them and their families. My students just really needed to hear from someone they trust that they would be okay.”
–Jennifer Conley, special education teacher, Newbern Middle School, Valdosta, Georgia
I teach in a small, rural school with a very small number of students of color. Last year I had a student of Mexican descent—a well-liked, popular kid. His friends started teasing him about “getting sent back home,” as Donald Trump yakked on about the wall. I believe these “jokes” were hurtful to my student, even though he would not admit it.
–Julie Rine, English teacher, Minerva High School, Minerva, Ohio
At my diverse school, many of my fourth-graders fear that if Trump is elected, they will be immediately thrown out of the country. That’s what they are hearing, so of course they are confused and afraid! I have tried to ease their fears by reminding them that Trump has not been elected yet, and that ours is a system of checks and balances.
—Holly Harris, fourth-grade teacher, Tortuga Preserve Elementary School, Lehigh Acres, Florida
We have a very socioeconomically diverse student body, and our school works hard to encourage students to embrace multiculturalism. Even so, we did have some students who adhere to Trump’s ideas stoking fears, primarily among our English language learners. So far our students have handled it themselves, discussing what constitutes hate speech and how to be tolerant when you hold a different opinion. It’s a testament to the culture we’ve fostered that our students have so far been able to rise above the tremendously negative, intolerant, at times hateful rhetoric that seems to flow endlessly from the Trump campaign.
–Nick Scipione, chemistry teacher, Glenbard East High School, Lombard, Illinois