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If the GOP elites get their way, Donald Trump will not be the next president of the United States. But in the end, whether or not he ends up in the White House does not matter, because his campaign has done and is doing real damage to this country. Candidate Trump is crisscrossing the nation in the guise of a new-millennium Mussolini, and the poison he spreads along the way—racism, xenophobia, misogyny, disdain for the poor—will affect the US for at least a generation.

Trump and School Kids

Trump and School Kids—Natalie Davis

Children are listening and taking cues from what they see and hear reported in the mainstream media, which routinely give the lion's share of their coverage—nearly $2 billion in free media attention so far—to Trump.

That's because, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, children are listening and taking cues from what they see and hear reported in the mainstream media, which routinely give the lion's share of their coverage—nearly $2 billion in free media attention so far—to Trump. 

The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools, released this week, lays bare the dangerous reach of The Donald’s ugly campaign trail rhetoric. This recounting of the results of an unscientific Teaching Tolerance study of 2,000 teachers paints a troubling picture of what is happening in USian classrooms: Trump’s words are “producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions ... Many students worry about being deported.”

Not helping matters is that other kids are taking Trump’s belligerent posturing and amplified hate speech as a guide to how they should behave: “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.”

The report says educators are trying to remain nonpartisan in classrooms, as they should. Increasingly, however, many told surveyors that they see a real need to take a stand to protect the children in their charge.

From SPLC’s report:

Two responses from teachers illustrate their dilemma. A teacher in Arlington, Va., says, “I try to not bring it up since it is so stressful for my students.” Another, in Indianapolis, In., says, “I am at a point where I’m going to take a stand even if it costs me my position.”

More highlights:

  • 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.

This means our children are not getting the safe space to learn that they deserve. Neither are they getting the depth of education they need to be fully informed citizens.

Interestingly, the surveying mentioned no candidates by name. But SPLC reports that Teaching Tolerance received more than 5,000 comments from teachers—and more than 1,000 of them specified Donald Trump as the source of their concern.

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Tennessee is feeling the effect: A kindergarten teacher in our state commented that one of her students, one of Latino descent, was told by other kids that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall. The teacher said the child asks every day whether the wall is here yet.

Sadly, the Volunteer State is not alone.

In Virginia, an elementary school teacher says students are “crying in the classroom and having meltdowns at home.” In Oregon, a K-3 teacher says her black students are “concerned for their safety because of what they see on TV at Trump rallies.” In North Carolina, a high school teacher says she has “Latino students who carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they are afraid they will be deported.”

Then, there are the students Drumpf has emboldened, kids who use the reality TV star-cum-candidate’s name as they physically intimidate classmates and verbally assault them with names like “terrorist,” “ISIS,” or “bomber”:

“Students are hearing more hate language than I have ever heard at our school before,” says a high school teacher in Helena, Mt. Another teacher reports that a fifth-grader told a Muslim student “that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president!”

Educators share fears that as a result, students may become adults who don’t trust the government, who avoid the political process (and thereby give up their rights and responsibilities as citizens—including voting), and/or who are “hostile” to those holding opposing points of view.

This obviously does not bode well for US society as a whole. While there is no way to know what any long-term effects would be, it is no leap to fear that an entire generation of children could be affected negatively.

In its report, SPLC offers advice to teachers, entreating them to take up the challenge of addressing the presidential contest in daily lessons. It also urges them to take action when they encounter fear and bullying and to use these disturbing events as teaching moments.

Additionally, the organization calls out politicians.

For the sake of children and their education, presidential candidates should begin modeling the kind of civil behavior and civic values that we all want children to learn in school.

Surely these are values we all can embrace—even Trump, who is a father and grandfather of young children. Then again, this is a man who tends to begin defending his indefensibly bad behavior with words generally employed by the schoolyard set: "He started it!"

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Natalie Davis
Grateful Dread Public Radio