Even the most civilized among us, recognize that that the 2016 election rhetoric is out of control. Direct and even personal verbal and social criticism has become the new norm as presidential candidates have compared each other to terrorists and bigots, promised to beat-out brains, called journalists crazy, endorsed the word "bimbo" and, reportedly, resorted to good old-fashioned name calling.
Every four years, teachers in the United States use the presidential election to impart valuable lessons to students about the electoral process, democracy, government and the responsibilities of citizenship.
But, for students and teachers alike, this year’s election season is starkly different from any in recent memory. The results of an online survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance suggest that the campaign is having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.
Educators are perplexed and conflicted about what to do. They report being stymied by the need to remain nonpartisan but disturbed by the anxiety in their classrooms and the lessons that children may be absorbing from this campaign.
A recent survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers (not meant to be scientific, because participants were chosen randomly) shows a disturbing nationwide problem, one that is particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.
The campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.
Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. 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.
When children are chronically anx i o u s , even the most well-meaning teachers and parents can fall into a negative cycle and, not wanting a child to suffer, actually exacerbate the youngster’s anxiety. H e r e are pointers for helping c h i l d r e n stay focused amid the election noise.
The goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it. Express positive—but realistic— expectations. The best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. It’s to help them learn to tolerate their anxiety and function as well as they can, even when they’re anxious.
Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious. Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run.
We urge educators not to abandon their teaching about the election, to use instances of incivility as teaching moments, and to support the children who are hurt, confused and frightened by what they’re hearing.