Intimidation, mounting fear, and anxiety: The U.S. presidential campaign is having a direct influence on the ambiance in classrooms around the country. A study has criticized the so-called “Trump effect.”
Previously, the presidential election every four years was a time when American schoolteachers took advantage of the opportunity to give their pupils lessons in democracy and citizenship. This year, however, they are walking on eggshells. And the reason for this is the “Trump effect.”
“The word ‘Trump’ is enough to derail a class,” notes a teacher in a survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance, a branch of the active civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center, which is based in Alabama. Their study, dubbed the “Trump Effect,” is based on an online questionnaire that was completed on a voluntary basis by 2,000 primary and secondary teachers. Thus, it does not claim to be representative.
Nevertheless, more than two-thirds of the teachers said that their pupils have doubts or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election, and more than a third have seen a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments in their classrooms.
“Students are hearing more hate language than ever before,” explained a teacher from Montana. “They think everyone hates them,” added one of his colleagues.
According to the report, the most common question is, “Is the wall [that Donald Trump plans to have built between Mexico and the United States] there yet?” Children often express the fear that they will be deported or that their families will be separated. Some are afraid of losing their homes, having to live in hiding, or even of being sent to detention camps.
Students from Latin American and Muslim backgrounds are especially worried. According to the study, the atmosphere in classrooms has changed. Many of these children are not only scared, but also “hurt” and “depressed.” These second-generation immigrants feel that they no longer belong in this country and have no value.
African-American pupils also feel that they are being targeted. The report mentions that some of them have asked their teachers if they will be deported to Africa, or even if slavery will be restored.
Other children take sides, creating tension within the classroom. “Some children tell others that they will be thrown out soon,” said a teacher, who described how children are bullying their classmates by saying, “When Trump wins, you and your family will be sent back home.” According to a high school teacher, “One child said that he supported Donald Trump because he would kill all Muslims if he became president.”
“Hearing ‘dirty Mexican’ has become a regular occurrence in the school where I teach. Prior to the campaign, I had never heard this insult,” said a teacher from Wisconsin. In many of the schools whose teachers were on the panel, negative remarks, disparaging comments and intimidation have become commonplace. More than half of the teachers surveyed noted a rise in racist remarks, derived from political speeches.
Hostility and Anger
If the echoes of the political campaign can be heard in the classroom, it is not because they have given rise to a debate. “Students have become very hostile to opinions that differ from their own, regardless of the subject being discussed. Now, any division leads to anger and personal attacks,” said a teacher from Georgia. Another teacher from New York said that, as soon as Trump’s name is mentioned, “students on both sides get upset.”
Faced with this poisonous atmosphere, two-thirds of the teachers who were interviewed have decided to depart from their usual program, and are no longer content with merely discussing civil rights and democracy. This year, the majority of them have chosen to discuss the election with their pupils from a different perspective. Some of them have set aside neutrality. “I have said loud and clear what I think about certain candidates – this is something that I have never done before. But I feel that it is my duty to act against ignorance,” explained one teacher. Others have chosen to focus on specific aspects of the campaign, such as the rhetoric. “My pupils should know that what they are witnessing is not acceptable,” said a teacher from Washington. Others, feeling helpless, have decided to omit the electoral campaign from their lessons entirely. Claiming that the subject causes too much controversy, 50 teachers in the sample admit that they have given up, saying that they will do their best to avoid this subject, which, nevertheless, remains ubiquitous.