Friday, March 4, 2016

Year 6: Week 25 – Cleaning Up After Politicians

The day after Barack Obama was elected to office of the President Of The United States, there was a fight at my school. Before school started a group a students were talking. Two students had opposing political positions and when their discussions escalated into a physical altercation. The students were using language that they heard somewhere else, from pundits, parents or other adults, that represented the worst of political rhetoric and not understanding the meaning and context of these words, they let each other have it.

These were 9-year olds.

In that moment I felt a feeling of shame at our country.  Is this what we have taught our children about politics?

As teacher, there are things that I enjoy about teaching during a run-up to a presidential election and things that I dread. As teachers it is our job to help students understand the world around them. When it comes to discussions about politics we have a responsibility to hold back our bias and make sure that we are not influencing students with own our personal political positions.

In past elections cycles, this hasn’t been that difficult. It’s not that difficult to explain different philosophical views on welfare.  This year has been different. When one of my eight graders came into my classroom dressed up like Donald Trump on Halloween and wanted to give a speech in front of the class, I told him no. I couldn’t risk him quoting one of Trump’s offensive racist or sexist comments in my classroom. While this could be interpreted as a partisan move, for me it had to do with the overarching goal of maintaining a safe space in my classroom.

Earlier this week, I had this conversation with a middle school student:
6th grader: Mr. Tang, what does Donald Trump mean when he says he wants to make America great again? 
Me: I honestly don't know. I can't think of another time I'd want to go back to that is better. 
6th grader: You wouldn't want to go back to time? Is there a time you would want to time travel to? 
Me: Maybe for a really short visit, but I don't really want to go back to a time when my marriage would be illegal and my son would be the only person of color in his class. 
6th grader: Yeah, that's a good point, I understand what you mean.
I hesitated to be this honest with this student, but I felt that he deserved an real answer. For me, this discussion was about being thoughtful and reflective on what this statement means for myself and many other people in this country. This discussion for me really wasn’t about politics but rather who I am as a human being and the important need to express this genuinely to my students.

Teacher have to play janitor for American children, cleaning up after the messes that our culture leaves behind. I’ve had to explain to students why people still buy Chris Brown’s music after he beat Rihanna. I’ve helped students understand why sexist jokes from Family Guy cannot be repeated in school. I’ve explicated misogynistic rap lyrics and I’ve had discussions with Asian students who don’t understand why no one is making a big deal about Chris Rock’s horribly offensive Asian jokes at the Oscars.

And now, I’m dealing with this disgusting mess of xenophobia, racism and misogyny that Donald Trump is expelling into our culture.

It’s the job and I’m glad that I can be there for my students, but I'm also annoyed, and irritated that people aren't being more conscientious in how this immature and irresponsible political rhetoric is effecting our children.

My students deserve better, your children deserve better.

This isn't about right vs. left.

It's about right vs. wrong.    

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