Several teachers told us that, after the American elections, their students came to class dismayed, some even close to tears. Many felt betrayed, and expressed a feeling that their generation is going to have to live in a world that is becoming more and more unsafe and unsustainable.
We observed different cases all along a spectrum of choices teachers can make.
Some teachers did nothing. They told students they would not talk about it and went back to their class or lectures as usual. Other teachers felt too despondent to act although they felt they should do something and they felt they needed as much support as their students. The choice to ignore the event may not be helpful: needless to say students who are upset cannot follow and won’t remember much from the course.
Others decided to lead activities with their students the day after, putting aside the curriculum or syllabus for a while. We decided to promote activities that propose to take some time to help learners – and teachers- to realize how we all have a shared responsibility when it comes to living democracy.
We all need to get better at listening to one another. Love more than hate. Ask questions more than make assumptions. Reject polarization. Promote critical thinking. Give voice to the voiceless. Challenge yourself and question your own views. We will get through this if we stick together.
D.D., music teacher, NY, USA
So what can we actually do as educators? Of course it will very much depend on the age of the learners. Click on the tabs for some ideas.
Most of the materials we found promoted being reassuring. Being reassuring on the day the students are upset is a caring stance, but it should not be akin to denial of a critical situation and needs to be followed up by educational activities.
I don’t only want to tell my students that I’ll protect them, but that I want them to learn how to protect themselves and speak out. Reassuring them sounds like trying to neglect that there is racism, sexism and xenophobia, but there is. With my students I want to focus on what they can do now. I strongly believe that what they feel now needs to be directed to creating progress rather than depression or hate.”
M.H. teacher in Germany
It can be followed up by activities that help young children process democratic process at a level they can grasp. You can find activities for the curious 6-7 year olds, the social 8-9 year and the more self-conscious pre-teens.
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We found many resources targeting older students. Teachers have the choice to go towards more analysis, while remembering that every learner does better with active learning and enjoyable tasks.
Starting with what they want to learn is crucial.
The morning after, I asked my student what they wanted to do. Here some answers:
M. V. teacher in Germany
Voting: organize a mock-election learning to get information before voting, decrypting political leaflets, creating platforms…
Writing: create a diary entry and come back to it later or write their feeling and thoughts on postits, put them on a wall and let them read each others text.
Researching: read coverage from across the political spectrum, search what is the history of this way of thinking? Where is it focused? How have candidates convinced people? Understanding voter registration and turnout: how many people are registered to vote in their district, how many actually voted, what obstacle to voting exist? What is disenfranchisement, fraud, voter apathy, and voter intimidation? What are ways to improve voter turnout? What can WE do?
Young adults in schools are often students living away from their home and, often, the only adults they have access to are their teachers. This means that teachers have a duty to consider their role as a teacher of such young adults as flexible and open and encompassing students’ needs, especially in time of crisis and despair.
My students also told me that no other teacher was willing to talk about the US election results that day and they were happy that I said something.
I.L. lecturer in Hungary
But again not all student expresses this need.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris, I devoted a class to speak with my students about it. In the end of semester, when I asked my students to give feedback, half of them said – “it was a good course, except that one seminar, when we were out of topic, and spoke about politics. I am not interested in politics, and I prefer to stay on topic.
R.A. Lecturer in Lithuania
Teachers need to take care of themselves before, and understand their level of comfort with dealing with controversy.
Find your way, take your time: KISS! Keep it short and simple.
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Photos by Jørgen Håland and Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash.
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