Minority children suffer from hate rhetoric in presidential campaign

Every four years, educators across the country look to the presidential election for teachable lessons about the electoral process, government and the responsibilities of citizenship. But this year is starkly different from any in recent memory.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splcenter.org), the premier U.S. nonprofit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists, surveyed approxi-mately 2,000 teachers and found that the campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in classrooms across America.

Many students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile, rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.

The SPLC reported the findings in a report released in April.

“We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen.

The online survey, conducted by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project, is not scientific, but it provides a rich source of information about the impact of this year’s election on the country’s classrooms. The data, including 5,000 comments from educators, shows a disturbing nationwide problem, one that is particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.

• More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students — mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims — have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.

• More than one-third have seen an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.

• Almost half are hesitant to teach about the election.

While the survey did not identify particular candidates, more than 1,000 comments mentioned Donald Trump by name. In contrast, a total of fewer than 200 contained the names Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. More than 500 comments used the words “fear,” “anxious,” “afraid,” “scared”or “terrified” to describe the campaign’s impact on minority students.

“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” wrote a teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslims. “They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.”

In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher said one Latino child — told by classmates that he will be deported and kept from returning home by a wall — asks every day, “Is the wall here yet?”

Educators, meanwhile, are perplexed and conflicted about what to do. They report being styrnied by the need to remain non-partisan but disturbed by the anxiety in their classrooms and the lessons that children may be absorbing from this campaign.

“Schools are finding that their anti-bullying work is being tested and, in many places, falling apart,” said Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, author of the report. “Most teachers seem to feel they need to make a choice between teaching about the election or protecting their kids. In elementary school, half have decided to avoid it. In middle and high schools, we’re seeing more who have decided, for the first time, not to be neutral.”

The long-term impact on children’s well-being, their behavior and their civic education is impossible to gauge. The SPLC urged educators to use instances of incivility as teaching moments and to support children who are hurt, confused or frightened.

– edited from the Southern Poverty Law Center Report, Summer 2016
PeaceMeal,July/August 2016

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