In schools across the country, teachers are seeing an ugly election cycle spill over into the classroom.
That’s according to a survey issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center this week. It reports a widespread rise in bullying, racism, and schoolyard threats against minority students. The survey didn’t mention Donald Trump by name in that context, but over 1,000 of the roughly 5,000 responses did.
“We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump,” summarized SPLC president Richard Cohen in an accompanying statement.
The informal online survey was conducted between March 23 and April 2. It’s not scientific—a link to the survey was circulated to educators online—but it does read like a horror story.
One principal said that young bullies were using Trump’s name as a schoolyard taunt. Others said minority students have expressed concern about what might happen to them if Trump is elected. Nearly half said the political environment made them hesitant to teach about the election.
Here are some verbatim quotes from the survey.
Reports that minority students are being singled out by their peers, and that many fear they would be mistreated by a Trump administration:
“One of my students who is Muslim is worried that he will have to wear a microchip identifying him as Muslim.”
“A student has been called terrorist and Isis. Another was told he would be deported if Trump wins.”
“Example: talking about Trump winning in our state, one student turned to another and said, “Goodbye, Kevin” (because Kevin is Mexican).”
“I am in a segregated African American (99%) school in Chicago. I have heard several student conversations about how that one dude running for president wants to send all blacks back to Africa. They are seriously concerned and confused.”
Just saying the word “Trump” has reportedly been enough to set things off in a classroom:
“The word ‘trump’ is enough to derail a class. 50% Hispanic, many students fear being kicked out of the country.”
“I am a middle school principal. We have had numerous situations of bias -based bullying during this school year. Students have openly taunted Latino and Muslim students, saying, “When Trump is President, you’re going to get deported.” There have also been cases of students just going up to other students and saying, “Trump Trump Trump” in a taunting tone.”
The rise of Trump is reconfiguring regular classroom dynamics when it comes to discussing politics:
“Students who support Trump are getting extremely involved with students who are against Trump. The conversations quickly digress into a fire that is rarely seen with basic politics. On the other hand-students who support Trump for one reason or another are in turn also ostracized from the mainstream as we are a fairly liberal school. It is causing social divide amongst students who were once (if not friends) at least cordial to each other.”
“Students who are redirected or reprimanded for inappropriate language have commented that Donald Trump can say whatever he wants.”
“[Discussion about the election is] so objectionable that it’s not school appropriate for 11 and 12 year old students.”
“I have had a Trump supporter parent go to administration complaining that I am too liberal….. and we haven’t even studied the election or candidates yet In fact I have avoided it! This individual did not approach me and I don’t know what he accused me of doing or saying specifically. I was just told by administration to be careful’. Among other side effects of this, it is making me suspicious of my students (who is “telling on me” for being too liberal?) and uncomfortable in my own classroom.”
“Some avoid the topic at all and those that do take the risk of an uncomfortable conversation that is not appropriate for elementary and middle school students to hear.”
“The rhetoric around this election is just so toxic that teaching, or even talking about it with mixed crowds of students can be a volatile situation. I hear a lot of worry and discontent from teachers and students alike.”
Educators seem to be caught in the middle of this election. On the one hand it’s their duty to inform the students about how politics work, and to relate it to the real world. But on the other hand, everything in this election cycle seems to be devolving into a melange of profanity, sexism and general temper tantrum-ism; things that would best be left outside of the classroom.
“The sad part is that students are losing respect for the political process and for the office of the President,” wrote one teacher. “They see the candidates as jokes and are offended and dismayed for the future.”