Presidential campaigns normally are civics teaching tools for schools, but this year has been horribly different.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in a report titled “The Trump Effect” notes that the name-calling and scapegoating of Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, refugees and minorities has produced “an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color.” It also has inflamed racial and ethnic tensions in classrooms.
Students nationwide worry about a wall being built on the U.S.-Mexican border and are afraid of being deported.
“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,” says the report, drawn from a national survey of about 2,000 K-12 teachers.
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These are not far away concerns. People who work in Kansas City area schools with immigrants and families of color have seen the same fear in some kids and parents.
Mahnaz Shabbir described frightening incidents of Muslims facing a resurgence of Islamophobia, swelling from anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric in the presidential campaigns.
“There is a fear that’s occurring among children because they are hearing all of this,” said Shabbir, president of Shabbir Advisers. “It’s very important that teachers have an understanding of how to deal with it.”
According to the report, more than two-thirds of the teachers say students — mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims — fear for their future after the election. Shabbir said GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump has made it OK for people to speak openly about hate.
“They are learning this from what he’s doing,” she said.
From 5,000 comments in the survey, more than 1,000 mention Trump. Fewer than 200 referred to other candidates.
“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” says one 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.”
The Kansas City area’s growing Hispanic population has felt the political fallout, too, said John Fierro, newly elected to the board of the Kansas City Public Schools, where close to 30 percent of the 16,000 students are Latinos.
“That scares the hell out of them,” said Fierro, president and CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center. “We can’t have our kids or parents living in fear.”
Adults have a difficult time enduring the campaign ads, debates and news stories. But these ads are affecting children even more, especially coming from authority figures who are seeking the highest office in the land. The combativeness works against years of anti-bullying efforts in schools and a sense of social justice that children need to be good citizens.
“It just seems so incongruous,” observed SuEllen Fried, BullySafe USA founder, who has led pro-kindness and anti-bullying efforts in schools in this area and across the country.
Children are worried about deportation, having their families split up, being put in jail by police, losing their homes, seeing their places of worship closed and being sent to detention camps.
The report also notes that 40 percent of the teachers surveyed said they now balk at discussing the election. But the fear and bullying will only dissipate if confronted with lessons of how the political system should work.
Teachers have to help educate children especially when the politics of our times is failing them.