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How is Donald Trump’s Campaign Affecting Schoolkids? Sorely.

A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center about the impact of today’s presidential campaigns on schoolchildren offers an alarming picture of fear and new kinds of bullying in America’s classrooms

Jonathan Zalman
April 14, 2016
Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images
A group of kids display shirts in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally at Millington Regional Jetport in Millington, Tennessee, February 27, 2016. Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images
Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images
A group of kids display shirts in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally at Millington Regional Jetport in Millington, Tennessee, February 27, 2016. Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images

Welcome back to #TrumpWatch, where Tablet presents the daily low-lights of Donald Trump’s attempt to use the dark forces of bigotry to become President of the United States. Today, we turn our focus to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center entitled, “The Trump Effect,” which details the impact the 2016 presidential campaigns—particularly Trump’s—is having on schools across America.

The report, which is not scientific, is based on research culled by SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance initiative, based in Alabama, which produces free educational materials for teachers and other practitioners, including a magazine, aimed at “reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations, and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.” Teaching Tolerance, in participation with Facing History and Ourselves and Teaching for Change, sent out an online survey to educators, to which nearly 2,000 people responded, providing more than 5,000 comments.

(Note: Of the questions that were sent to participants, candidates were not specifically identified. And yet, more than 20 percent of the comments Teaching Tolerance received, mentioned Donald Trump. “In contrast,” write Maureen B. Costello, the report’s author “fewer than 200 contained the names Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton.”)

The report is bleak. It’s jarring to learn about how far the rhetoric of a presidential campaign can trickle down. It’s scary in that Trump has, according to this report, given school bullies fertile ground upon which to inflict pain unto others. It’s scary to read about how some minorities, across a wide spectrum, are living in fear, feeling like ” ‘they don’t belong here and they have ‘no value’ to the country.”

Here are some of the low-lights, quoted directly from the report:

— In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher says a Latino child—told by classmates that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall—asks every day, “Is the wall here yet?”

— Many children, however, are not afraid at all. Rather, some are using the word Trump as a taunt or as a chant as they gang up on others. Muslim children are being called terrorist or 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, Montana.

— A Portland, Oregon, middle school teacher reported that her principal had imposed a “gag order” on teachers, prohibiting them from talking about the election. But the order didn’t stop one of her students from telling an immigrant classmate, “When Trump wins, you and your family will get sent back.” On the survey she posed the question, “What does a teacher do? I can assure you that if a student says that loudly and brazenly in class, far worse is happening in the hallway.”

— Over two-thirds (67 percent) of educators reported that young people in their schools—most often immigrants, children of immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and other students of color—had expressed concern about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Close to one-third of the students in American classrooms are children of foreign-born parents. This year, they are scared, stressed and in need of reassurance and support from teachers. Muslim children are harassed and worried. Even native-born African-American children, whose families arrived here before the American Revolution, ask about being sent back to Africa. Others, especially younger students, have worries that are the stuff of nightmares, like a return to slavery or being rounded up and put into camps.

— Some Muslim students think that, if Trump becomes president, they will have microchips implanted under their skin.

— In Massachusetts, an elementary school social worker described what was happening to her 8-yearold son, who was adopted from Korea. “He came home from school and recounted a conversation he’d had with his friends on the playground. Many … come from immigrant families and/or are black or brown. He told me they know that if Donald Trumpet [sic] was elected that we would have to move to another continent to be safe and that there would be a big war. He is very nervous about being sent away with my husband who is also Korean American.”

— After fellow students in Washington state had repeatedly shouted slurs from their cars at one Muslim teenager, her teacher reported, the girl expressed suicidal thoughts.

— Others reported that their Iraqi and Syrian students are terrified of being sent back to their waritorn countries.

— Teachers used words like “hurt” and “dejected” to describe the impact on their charges. The ideas and language coming from the presidential candidates are bad enough, but many students—Muslim, Hispanic and African-American— are far more upset by the number of people, including classmates and even teachers, who seem to agree with Trump. They are struggling with the belief that “everyone hates them.”

— A teacher in Ferguson, Missouri, where nearly nine out of 10 students are African American, says, “We do not have the language and hate of any candidates repeated at the high school where I teach. … However, I do hear students wonder if they are being let in on what all white people truly think and feel. This is so disappointing and hard to combat.”

— “… as one California teacher explained, “I have tried to reassure my students that no matter the outcome, they will be okay. I don’t even know if that’s true, but I can’t have them worry and stress about it.”

— The gains made by years of anti-bullying work in schools have been rolled back in a few short months… One high school teacher from Westmoreland wrote, “A lot of students think we should kill any and all people we do not agree with. They also think that all Muslims are the same and are a threat to our country and way of life. They believe all Muslims want to kill us.”

— Neither are the slurs limited to schools with immigrant populations. “At the all-white school where I teach, ‘dirty Mexican’ has become a common insult,” a Wisconsin middle school educator said. “Before election season it was never heard.”

— A Michigan middle school teacher described an exchange that followed an anti-bullying assembly: “I had students tell me it [insults, name-calling, trash talk] isn’t bullying, they’re just ‘telling it like it is.’”

Download the 18-page report here, or the raw, 237-page companion that provides readers with every single comment made by respondents (their identifiable information has not been included).

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.

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