Nine and ten-year-old children are a curious bunch. They are on the cusp of adolescence and are just beginning to get a grasp on the outside world. Their minds are like sponges, soaking up everything that is around them. This is a very special time in their lives where they have opinions based on their own schema.
As a fifth grade teacher I have always looked forward to election season to introduce the concept of opinions, fact and fiction. I particularly always enjoyed introducing my young students to presidential campaigns, the Electoral College, and the importance of debate in our democratic process.
Not this year.
In the past, my students looked at candidates, discussed their campaigns, looked at the issues, and debated themselves. We always had mock elections and looking at the results were often an interesting exercise. My students usually began by parroting what was heard at home or they would disagree with what they heard at home. I encouraged them to read the news and watch news channels. We often discussed the different viewpoints presented. We read opinion pieces and discussed that opinions were worthless unless backed up with real facts. I also encouraged them to watch the debates and be prepared to discuss them the next day in class. Yes, we did that in fifth grade!
Not this year!
How can I? This year I cannot discuss the issues with children. In addition, I am faced with families that are so polarized on the candidates that any discussion is viewed as an attempt to indoctrinate children. So how am I supposed to explain Trump saying he and other rich men have the privilege to grope women when some think it is ok?
I see pictures of high school students in very diverse schools wearing Trump hats saying “Make America Great Again” and I want to weep because I know their parents love it.
I would love to discuss the issues of the campaign, with my students, but not this year. I just can’t!
I can’t discuss Trump rating women, calling them pigs, calling immigrants rapists, saying POW’s are not heroes, or saying Muslims are our enemy. Trump has brought our nation into a dark hole.
How can I? How can I with fifth grade students?
I will teach them history.
I will teach them about the peoples’ history! I will teach them why our nation is the greatest in the world and about the mistakes we have made in the past. I will instill in them the importance of learning from the past. I will prepare them to create their own opinions based on facts not rhetoric. I will teach them about respect and the rights and responsibilities we all have as citizens.
As teachers we touch the future every day as we teach our students. We need to ensure our future is bright and we need to prepare our students so our nation never ever has to return into this very dark hole politics has brought us into.
So not this year! This year we look to the future. We ignore Trump and we defeat this ugly narrative by educating our students to learn from the past. And hopefully our great experiment will survive. We will survive not through fear and intimidation. We will survive through knowledge. Because, knowledge is power. And once we have the power, America will continue to be great.