Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Classroom Divided



“Lynin’.” “Crooked.” “Little.” “Lock her up!” “Try her for treason and shoot her.” "Hillary Clinton has to go to jail, OK? She has to go to jail," Mr. Trump declared in June, "She's guilty as hell." “But his longtime adviser Roger Stone has long argued for more. ‘Hillary must be brought to justice -- arrested, tried and executed for murder,’ he tweeted two years ago. Stone suggested anew this week … that Clinton murdered her friend Vince Foster.” Dana Milbank on OregonLive.com, July 21st. Obama and Clinton are “co-founders of ISIS.”
There are an awful lot of Americans who believe every word. They have learned that it’s okay to make fun of the disabled, blame the President for the death of Captain Humayan Kahn… four years before Obama was president… while denigrating both this medaled fallen soldier and his family, to demean an American-born judge with a stellar record as a biased Mexican incapable of rendering a fair decision because of his ethnicity, castigate entire ethnic, racial and religious groups with harsh words and mean-spirited remarks, grading women on their looks, encouraging the ownership of assault weapons under a completely incorrect vision of the Second Amendment while feeling that most of the blue-on-black shootings of late were fully justified, etc., etc.
The world is watching. Foreign governments are already planning what would become of their diplomatic relations with the United States should such a negative, dark, isolationist and polarizing man become president. Others believe, as I have often thought, that perhaps Trump is going to the edge because he really is terrified of actually becoming president and having to implement his slogan-directed policies which have absolutely no chance of working. International jaws drop as they wonder how the United States could possibly be so self-destructive. I got this in an email from a friend in Australia, a prominent criminal defense lawyer: “Very scary that Trump could be a possibility; I wonder if the US will be placed on the no-go list for travel warnings.”
Through all of this, we have to remember that our children are seeing this incredible bullying-mantra, the legitimization of racism, unfold before their eyes. It’s everywhere. Radio, television, the Web, print and social media, and in discussions everywhere. There is no escape. Kids mimic their parents, the folks held up to them as major candidates of mainstream parties and build their own vulnerable, impressionable and forming values accordingly. And when it comes to “social studies” in primary school and various forms of “civics” lessons in secondary school, exactly how are teachers grappling with these real world expressions of everything we were told are inappropriate behavior?
“What's happening in classrooms reflects these omissions. In a typical election year, teachers might pin a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the wall, lead a lesson on the branches of government, and moderate a debate. But as the language on the campaign trail continues to polarize voters, those strategies feel both incomplete and perilous; even the driest of lessons can prompt parent complaints or stoke bullying. (Indiana high school students chanted ‘Build a wall!’ at a basketball game in March, an ugly jeer aimed at Latino students on the rival team.) A survey published by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that 43% of K-12 educators are ‘hesitant to teach about the election,’ and more than half have ‘seen an increase in uncivil political discourse’ in their schools. Other teachers have been prohibited from discussing the subject; for example, one middle school principal in Portland, Oregon, has instituted a ‘gag order’ on election topics, according to the survey.
“‘Teachers right now are afraid to teach the election,’ says Louise Dubé, executive director of iCivics, a nonprofit founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that develops educational games about government. ‘An election is part of a democratic process, it shouldn’t be something scary. We need to help them have those conversations.’
“Dubé and her peers are fighting an uphill battle. According to researchers, the rancorous political atmosphere is magnifying a secular decline in civics education. ‘We don’t do as much civic education as we once did,’ says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
“CIRCLE analysis suggests that schools’ narrow focus on math and English language arts, at the expense of subjects such as social studies and history, has contributed to a drop in the number of course hours allocated for government and current events. In parallel, political polarization has made many classrooms more homogeneous, posing a challenge for teachers looking to represent diverse viewpoints.
“‘Fifty years ago, it was common to have a course called ‘Problems of Democracy,’ ’ Kawashima-Ginsberg says. ‘Young people had an open space to talk about what’s in the news, with the goal of forming values and opinions in terms of their political leanings.’… Now, she says, ‘We no longer see or hear from people who are different politically. Parents will say that by talking about politics, ‘You’re brainwashing our children.’ ’” FastCompany.com, August 13th.
The inability to teach children about our political system, the fear of both parental backlash and having to deal with mountains of actual words and behavior from candidates and their followers that we have been telling our kids for decades are unacceptable, suborning comparable vituperatives in the classroom and even bullying against minorities, are going to stick with us for years to come.
This elimination of civics from our primary and secondary curricula, whether from fear or usurpation by other courses of study, will leave students with uncorrected views of what our Constitution really says or how our government was designed to work… as they move into the world as voters and potential future politicians themselves. If what you see seems bad today, exactly how will these “new and accepted political practices” define/change our future? How will this trend change our children… and their view of right and wrong? Who exactly are we as Americans today? Can we even live in a single United States anymore?
I’m Peter Dekom, and if you aren’t clearly letting your children know that so much of what we are seeing and hearing in this campaign is dead wrong (no matter the “stature” of the source), you are part of the problem.

1 comment:

Carole Leigh Engblom said...

I enjoy your blog, Peter, and really appreciated this last post. This is a discussion we're all having with colleagues in education, not to mention with family, friends, and lately, even with people we meet in passing. It's a huge and critically important issue and one that St. Olaf College is addressing with its Institute for Freedom and Community (http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/d50ae238#/d50ae238/18). Thanks for adding your always insightful thoughts to the larger conversation.