Since the election results were announced, I haven’t mentioned them in any public forum. I was too overwhelmed, and I didn’t want to muddy the waters here; I wanted to stay focused on teaching.
But everywhere I look, the waters are plenty muddy. Over the past five days, the pain I’m hearing in the voices of friends, family members, and total strangers online, the acts of hate and violence I’m seeing on the news, they’re not letting up. And not using this platform to share my thoughts would be cowardly. It would be lazy. It would also be a wasted opportunity: Most of my readers are educators, people who will shape the next generation. So if I can influence those teachers in any way, I have a responsibility to give it my best shot.
I’d like to propose a few ideas for things educators can do to move us forward in a way that’s healing and productive.
Let me be clear: I’m not talking about moving ON, dismissing what has happened, or “getting over it.” I have seen too much heartbreak, confusion and fear this week—on both sides—to suggest we move on. I’m talking about forward motion, the work we have ahead of us.
What Teachers Can Do Now
Although this list is directed at teachers, I believe it’s also relevant for parents and anyone else who works with children, teens, or college students. In some places, I have provided links to good resources that can help. If you have other suggestions, please let me know in the comments.
1. Keep building relationships with and between your students.
If this election has taught us anything, it’s that a whole lot of us don’t trust each other. This division pushes us more deeply into our own corners, which only exacerbates the problem. The more we can do to make our classrooms places where real people know and trust one another, where we learn each other’s stories and uncover the things we have in common, the better we’ll get at embracing our differences.
So look for opportunities to build these relationships: On days when you can opt to show a video or play a game, go with the game. If a student seems troubled, but you’re busy, try to find five minutes to talk to him anyway. When you have extra time at the end of a class period, chat with students instead of catching up on email. All those little moments will add up.
Here are a few other resources from this site that can help:
2. Practice and teach respectful disagreement.
We have to learn new ways of talking with people who disagree with us. The skills are nothing new, but so many of us are completely out of practice when it comes to thoughtful discourse. It can be taught. And we need to provide students with plenty of practice in speaking honestly about their opinions without being insulting.
These resources would be a good place to start:
This Teaching Channel video shows how one teacher works with her students on having calm, respectful conversations with clear discussion guidelines and support materials.
The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies
Any of the activities on this list will give students practice in healthy discourse.
3. Strengthen your approach to bullying, racism, and other acts of hate.
Recent acts of violence and hate scare me to death, and those are just the ones that made the news. Obviously, this is a bigger problem than I can handle in a single bullet point, but these two resources struck me as worth sharing, because each one addresses the problem from an angle I don’t often see.
5 Ways to Disrupt Racism
Although the strategies presented in this video are intended for acts of racism, they would be just as effective in any situation where a bystander witnesses an act of aggression or bullying.
How to Develop a School Culture that Helps Curb Bullying
This article approaches the problem of bullying holistically. It explains why zero-tolerance policies are often counterproductive and offers more impactful, long-lasting alternatives.
4. Teach media literacy.
With so many news outlets to choose from, it’s easy for people to pick the one that filters current events through whatever lens they like. Those outlets have done a bang-up job of pitting us against each other, and we need to help the next generation be less susceptible to media manipulation.
While we’re at it, we can also help kids develop a more critical eye when it comes to social media: Let’s help them practice using their words carefully online, to understand how their social media relationships shape their character and self-perception, and to balance the amount of time they spend on social media with other pursuits.
Two resources I recommend:
Common Sense K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum
This curriculum includes topics like information literacy, internet safety, cyberbullying, digital footprints, self-image, and copyright issues. Take a look at their scope and sequence to browse all topics.
This lesson plan from the Canadian organization MediaSmarts has students look deeply at how the news is constructed and examine bias in everything from language use to placement of news stories. Because the plan uses some terms specific to Canadian culture, adapting it by substituting U.S.-based content will make it easier for American students to understand.
5. Weave social justice into your curriculum.
So much post-election fallout has stemmed from the fear many have that the rights of marginalized populations will be stripped away. Many Trump voters insist they would not support that. We can all work toward greater equality for all human beings by incorporating more study of social justice, on our own and with our students. Earlier this year, I put together a list of social justice resources for classroom use. This would be a good place to start looking for materials.
6. Raise awareness of local and state government.
The presidential election is important, yes, but decisions were made Tuesday night that will have a more immediate impact on the lives of our students and their families. Despite that, local and state races get very little attention. Let’s help our future citizens become more active participants in their local and state elections.
As for resources, this is where I need your help. I have found a few things online, but my background is not in history or civics, so I’m not able to weed out the best of the best. As recommendations come in through the comments, I’ll check them out and add a few here.
Two More: What We All Can Do
These last two go outside the classroom. They are things we can do in our personal lives and in our personal time to improve the climate we’re living in, start repairing the damage that’s been done, and make it a lot less likely that we’ll ever have a week like this again.
7. Work to understand people whose perspectives are different from yours.
I mean really work at it.
This is something we rarely do with any kind of genuine intent. In my own experience, when I encounter someone whose views clearly differ from mine, my first reaction is to clam up and get away from them; I’m a conflict avoider. I would rather say nothing, then go home and quietly judge them. Others take the opposite approach, pouncing on anyone with a different opinion. Neither response really teaches us anything new.
But what if we really made an effort to simply understand the other side? To listen carefully, paraphrase what we’re hearing, ask clarifying questions, and sit with their reality for a moment?
To some people, the idea of doing this is out of the question; it would be like agreeing with them, wouldn’t it?
I disagree. I think it would help us all drop our defenses. It would make us a lot less scary to one another. And it would make it possible for us to actually find common ground. In this piece on Medium, Sean Blanda put it this way: “As any debate club veteran knows, if you can’t make your opponent’s point for them, you don’t truly grasp the issue. We can bemoan political gridlock and a divisive media all we want. But we won’t truly progress as individuals until we make an honest effort to understand those that are not like us.”
For me, the “other side” consists of Trump voters, and this week I have started to gain a better understanding of them from listening to Russell Brand’s comments in this video, or reading this post by David Wong. For you, the other side might be liberals. The best post I’ve read this week that explains how liberals are feeling is this one from Jennifer Borget.
But reading isn’t enough. This week, go to the nicest person you know who voted differently from you and ask if they’d be willing to talk for half an hour. Make it your goal to get a complete picture of their thinking. Don’t defend your position. Just listen.
8. Come out of the closet.
Too many of us, myself included, keep our views quiet, letting the angriest, most extreme voices have all the airtime. We do this to keep the peace, but what we get instead is an inaccurate picture. We rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn from each other, to see that people with opposing views are all around us, and they’re not terrible people.
If you’re a conflict-avoider like me, I urge you to start respectfully, calmly expressing your positions to family members and co-workers. Use your “I” statements. Avoid name-calling. If you get hostility back, be loving anyway. But let them know the real you.
Just in case the things I’ve written on this site for the last three years haven’t made it clear enough, I’ll take my turn. Although on a lot of issues I’m somewhere in the “gray area,” these are the things that mean the most to me:
- I am fervently pro-LGBTQ. Not “tolerant.” This one really is a non-negotiable for me.
- I support the Black Lives Matter movement. Initially, I had questions, but when I interviewed José Vilson in 2014 about Ferguson (please forgive the crap audio quality), I learned a lot. I have relatives and friends in law enforcement and of course I believe their lives matter, too. I do not condone or support violence against police and I don’t believe those who truly understand BLM do, either.
- As a descendant of immigrants on all sides (Ireland, Italy, Russia) and the wife of a man who is as well (Puerto Rico and Spain), I have a heart for immigrants and their right to a safe and humane existence.
- I believe a civilized society should be able to offer affordable health care to all of its citizens. When we start getting into the particulars of how that should happen, I curl up into a ball, but what I know for sure is that I want to belong to a country that values this enough to figure it out.
Those are the biggies for me. If these things are off-putting to you and they send you away, I’ll just say that I hope you come back someday. I’ll still be here and I’ll welcome you back with open arms.
Now let’s go forward. ♥
Latest posts by Jennifer Gonzalez (see all)
- 5 Ways College Teachers Can Improve Their Instruction - March 26, 2017
- Four Ways Teachers Can Support Students of Color - March 12, 2017
- Teaching Students to Avoid Plagiarism - February 26, 2017