The Election is Over; The Clean-up Begins
The election is over and the man who won said many threatening things during the campaign. His supporters say he meant those things figuratively. His detractors believe he intended them to be literal. Therein lies the great divide. But if you are a Muslim, Hispanic, have a disability or are a woman it is hard to parse the literal from the figurative.
Children in these groups are in our schools. Many are terrified of their futures or the futures of parents and other loved ones. Will children who were born in our country be “”sent back” and if so back to where? If the President-elect can say the things he said, even if only meant figuratively, does that give me license to taunt a fellow student who is wearing a headscarf? Has the “N” word now become acceptable in polite speech? Is being a diverse culture with many ways of sharing the same values now a bad thing? Does sharing the same American values mean we need to demonstrate those values in the same way? And most importantly to this discussion, how does all this play out in our schools?
There are essentially three issues here. First of all, in order for children to learn they need to feel safe and protected. Harassment of any kind cannot be tolerated. Bullying and degrading others is antithetical to what we believe in our schools. The pervasive nature of social media makes it difficult for schools to protect kids and keep them feeling safe. And even if we can keep them safe at school, how do we remove the worry that a parent or other loved one is going to be “sent back”. Somehow learning a short vowel sound loses its importance if you think your mother is going to be assaulted for wearing a headscarf.
The second issue is what to do with the merchants of hate who may feel they have been given license to spew their opinions into our schools. We can certainly take the hard line and suspend kids who behave in ways that are unacceptable. And I am not arguing that we should not do so in egregious cases. However, although harsh consequences for hate speech and ignorant behavior may give us a sense of satisfaction for punishing the wrong doers, as educators it does not fulfill our primary function which is to educate.
That brings me to the third issue and that is one of education. It is time we double down on teaching our students about American values and to help all kids to understand the value of differences among us. Just as most business leaders will tell you they do not want to be surrounded by yes people, so our society and our schools are enriched by seeing the world through the eyes of different beholders. That means we must make time for classroom dialog, restorative justice, and dyads and triads of kids talking to each other. “Now hear this” assemblies won’t do the job. It is hard to hate someone you know or someone with whom you shared a video game. The election may be over but the fall-out and clean-up are just beginning.