I have always been political, and I have always been vocal about my politics. Ever since high school, I’ve marched for causes, signed thousands of petitions, written an equal number of letters, and done my fair share of contributing my efforts to get the candidates I’ve supported elected. In my view, this what active citizenry looks like: you stay engaged, you participate, and you educate yourself so that you have a leg to stand on when the opposition comes at you…which they will, for that is also part of participatory democracy.
As a teacher, I wrestle with how vocal to be in my classroom, and also in my social media space: what can I write about? what should I share on Twitter? This election has presented unique challenges because Trump was so often beyond the pale in terms of what he said and did. There was no way to present this election in the normal way for my students, as I have for so many elections before, because he was simply not a normal candidate – no normal candidate has ever spoken or behaved the way he did, and I certainly did not want Trump to become the “new normal” for my young students. Even watching the debates became impossible, for many parents let me know that they would not allow their children view the debates “just in case”, which was their way of saying they did want to expose their children to the language used by Mr. Trump.
After the election, there have been even more issues to contend with – the Immigration Ban, the farcical confirmation process, Trump’s Tweeting habits, and the rash of hate crimes which my students are really paying attention to, because they are in the news all the time now:
There is a fine line between informing and advocating in a classroom setting, but I find myself having to cross it often these days because my kids are full of questions and opinions of their own: why are people racist? why does anti-Semitism still exist? why do people say hateful things? why don’t grown ups seem to ever listen to each other? why does everyone always shout at each other on the news? why are we still talking about all this bad stuff these days-haven’t we learned anything from the past?
These discussions always bring me back to something Mamie Till wrote in her book about her son Emmett’s murder: Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America:
That is, after all, how it works. We don’t come here with hatred in our hearts. We have to be taught to feel that way. We have to want to be that way, to please the people who teach us to want to be like them. Strange, to think that people might learn to hate as a way of getting some approval, some acceptance, some love.
Our classrooms and schools have to be places where hatred can be given no quarter, not even by silence:
So, even though I feel as though I am skating on thin ice sometimes, I will continue to open our classroom to difficult questions and discussions. Truth telling is a form of activism, and I celebrate that.