The results of this year’s Presidential election left many in shock. The day after, it seemed everyone was searching for reasons, explanations, predictions of what’s to come. This was especially true in schools across America. At work, I was greeted by 30-something dazed faces each period. Kids were crying. Teachers were crying. It was tough.
As teachers we’re told to be unbiased, to show tolerance. My superintendent sent out an email thanking us for what we do and recommending an article about how to hold sensitive, meaningful discussions with students. My principal did the same thing. He even held an impromptu lunchtime meeting for kids to share their concerns, a safe space.
The thing is, I can’t recall a time when this has ever happened in my 22 years of teaching, except for 9/11. That gives you an idea of how traumatic this election has been. I must confess that I am struggling. How do I tell my students and my own kids that things will be alright when they’ve heard the threats of the President-elect? We’ve had discussions, students have shared their thoughts and I’ve tried to keep things safe and civil for all. I’ve used this as a teaching moment on the intricacies of the Electoral College and the effect of identity politics and voter turnout.
My school has experienced little conflict. The same can’t be said of many schools across America. And I can’t imagine being that one immigrant kid in Anytown, America, or the teachers at schools where my own kids attend — schools in which most students come from immigrant families. My son’s middle school teacher held a community circle and by the end of the period everyone was in tears. Fears of family deportations or memories of past experiences filled the minds of many.
At school our job is to educate the whole child, to prepare them to be critical thinkers and “active citizens.” We strive to show compassion and empathy toward the dispossessed and respect for those in power. However, our students refuse to confuse that respect for the acceptance of sexism and xenophobia.
As a parent and teacher, I hope and pray I find a way to balance these things as our nation transitions into a new era.
With a Perspective, I’m Josh Gnass.
Josh Gnass teaches history and government in Burlingame. He lives in San Francisco.