Sunday, April 17, 2016

Citizenship education in this nasty political season

Every day last week, enthusiastic chants called us to our front window to see teachers and children from the combined elementary and middle school across the street practicing citizenship, San Francisco-style. They seemed a happy bunch.
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Meanwhile in less favored parts of the country -- where the presidential campaign has arrived in full flower -- many school children are experiencing something much less happy.

A survey of 2000 K-12 teachers, reported in Education Week, suggests that this season is being an educational nightmare in some classrooms.

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students -- mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims -- have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse
  • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.
  • "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."

Yes, the Donald and his Republican understudies are polluting the classrooms.

Molly Knefel, an afterschool drama teacher of kids from 7 to 12, reports how her students are reacting.

Children are, of course, political beings. They are humans who live in the world, and politics affect them. They observe, they watch, they listen, they pick up on more than we think they do, and they echo. ... But I’ve never before had the experience of watching kids between the ages of five and fourteen engage so deeply not only with a politician, but with his proposed policies. It’s not that they know about him -- they knew Romney was running against Obama in 2012, but that was basically where the conversation started and stopped -- but that they know exactly what he’s saying.

They know what he’s saying because Donald Trump doesn’t speak in policy proposals. He speaks in threats that a seven-year-old can understand. Trump has the twelve-year-olds in my classroom joking about immigration policy. And while my students’ jokes come from a shared perspective, Trump’s hateful language can also be levied against kids from the same marginalized groups Trump is targeting. ...

Molly Knefel's classroom mostly is home to kids of color, as is usually the case in public schools in urban areas. That's shouldn't be a surprise to anyone paying attention: since 2014, the majority of babies born in this country are no longer "white."

This drama teacher's students have figured out their own response to the nasty bigotry of the campaign.

At the middle school, the kids are writing a play together that they’ll perform for their parents at the end of the year. It’s about what they would do if there was a zombie apocalypse, and the first scene takes place at Starbucks, because one boy said that you need caffeine to fight zombies. I asked them to decide who else is in line at Starbucks, and they suggested Donald Trump (these same kids have a running joke that Starbucks is where white people go).

As a theater teacher, I’ve seen kids make plays about police violence, robbery, homelessness, overworked parents, subway dancers, pop stars, superheroes, vampires, and zombies. They act out their realities and their fantasies, their anxieties and their aspirations.

This year, they’re making a play where they sacrifice Donald Trump to the zombie apocalypse. In the final line of that scene, all the kids scream, “Bye, Trump!”

It's a tough time, but it is nice to see kids getting their citizenship education.
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Like most everyone else who isn't a millionaire, teachers are finding it nearly impossible to afford living in San Francisco.

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