Some of you may remember that I had the privilege of speaking to my friend Lauren's second grade class about elections last September. My favorite part of that experience was hearing what was filtering down from media to parents to kids.
A couple of examples:
Little Girl: Hillary will be the best President even though she was in jail.Of course, had I known how things would go I would have prepared these kids with a somewhat different conversation. Not to get all soapbox-y but at a time when both facts and compassion seem optional for adults in our country, public school teachers have never been more important. And thank God for them. After spending 2 hours with elementary schoolers, I left genuinely confused as to why we don't pay elementary school teachers six figure salaries. So when I saw Lauren's Facebook post below my heart melted, not just for the kids but also for her.
Me: I don't think she was in jail...
Little Girl: Yahuh! I saw it on the news!
Little Boy: Donald Trump is bad because he only likes white people and he had TWO fake schools!
2nd graders' takes on the state of our nation...How do you teach fairness and kindness in a world that is so obviously unfair and unkind? How do you explain what happened to seven year olds when most adults can't make sense of it? I decided to ask the source. Thank you Lauren for answering my questions as well as helping raise an informed and compassionate next generation.
Student 1: "We are now governed by a potato!"
Student 2: "Trump sees women as objects."
Student 3: "I'm scared and sad..."
1) Who are you? (Your professional background etc)
I'm a 2nd grade teacher at a public school in Manhattan. I am a general educator in an ICT classroom, meaning that we have some students with special needs and my co-teacher is a special educator. This is my 5th year at this school, where we serve mostly middle and upper middle class families. While we are not particularly racially or socioeconomically diverse, we have quite a bit of ethnic and linguistic diversity and a number of immigrants in our student body. Our school's emphasis is on social action.
2) How did you prepare your students for the election?
We added an election unit to our curriculum this year. We focused mostly on election vocabulary and how elections work. We also read a brief biography of both Clinton and Trump, and held a pretend election in which the students voted for who they predicted would win. In addition, we welcomed Nancy into our class as a guest speaker to discuss how campaigns and elections work! I was pleasantly surprised by how interested the students were in the election and how much they were discussing at home. Indirectly related to the election, we teach a unit every fall called "Fighting for a Cause" (from the Core Knowledge curriculum). Though we didn't plan it this way at the time, I've noticed since the election that the ideas (such as peaceful protests) and the activists (such as Martin Luther King, Jr.) that we studied during this unit have given my students a basis for discussing current events surrounding the election and new administration.
3) What was it like in school the day after the election?
The day after the election was emotional. Being around so many progressive teachers and families, there was definitely sadness and anger in the air at school. Some of my students came to school upset. We tried to remain somewhat unbiased (though I've felt conflicted about how unbiased we should be), but also gave the students space to talk about how they felt. We've been trying to let them lead the conversation as much as possible, starting that day. We've also been trying to help them feel safe. The day after the election, many students were talking about Trump building the wall. At this age, kids tend to focus on the concrete, and the wall was something they could understand. One girl was absent that day, and her family is Hispanic, so some of her friends were worried that she had been deported. Our main goal that day was to reassure them that they were safe with us.
4) What have the kids been saying about Trump since the inauguration?
My students haven't said too much about Trump himself, but when his name is mentioned, the anger on their faces says it all. Some memorable comments include one student repeatedly saying that Trump is a potato, and another student saying that Trump sees women as objects.
5) Has anything about their reaction surprised you? (How concerned about it do they seem to be? Do they know more/less than you expected etc?)
I've been surprised by how aware some of my students are and how much their families seem to discuss politics at home. They don't understand a lot of the specifics about policies, but they do sense the fear and outrage around them. However, I do think that kids are extremely resilient and able to compartmentalize more than adults, so while they are aware and concerned, they are able to, at least outwardly, show less concern than many adults. My students, for the most part, are fortunate in that they come from places of privilege, but they are still more knowledgeable than I would have expected. I have also been pleasantly surprised by the connections they make between the activism happening now and the historic activists we've studied. In addition, we wrote thank you letters to Obama on Inauguration Day and they impressed me with what they knew about his presidency, mentioning specifics such as Obamacare.
6) What challenges has a Trump presidency posed for you as a teacher?
The biggest challenge I have experienced has been trying to remain (at least somewhat) unbiased. I've been trying to let the students lead the conversation as much as possible, but that is not always easy. It can also be difficult to find language to use that is honest but still accessible for 2nd graders. Another challenge has been dealing with my own feelings surrounding Betsy DeVos, since I know those decisions will affect me and the rest of my school community. Teachers and parents at my school held a protest, which helped us feel like we were actively doing something and leading our students by example.
7) What, if anything, have you been talking to your kids about regarding a Trump presidency? Are there ways to make this teachable?
As I said, we've been trying to let the students lead the conversation as much as possible, answering their questions, trying to alleviate their fears, and highlighting examples of activism. There are definitely ways to make this teachable! In addition to teaching the ins and outs of how government works, I think the most important way to make this teachable is leading by example and focusing on what we can do as citizens to fight for what we believe is right. I think it's easy for both children and adults to feel overwhelmed and helpless, so actively searching for ways to fight can only help.