We’ve participated in and witnessed a historic and disruptive election in the United States. The election of Donald Trump follows the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, but will likely create even more instability in international relations and financial markets. If Trump’s campaign statements are guide for the future, U.S. democratic institutions are at risk, similar to the Weimar Republic (Germany) in 1933. FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) is thick in the air. While Trump supporters celebrate the electoral outcome, many others are looking around and asking, “What just happened and why? What do we do now, and what do we say to our children?” In this post, I’ll explore how educators can “stay on message” in the classroom to both inspire and empower students to be informed, thoughtful, and constructive participants in our shared political future.

In 2004, Thomas Frank wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.” The flip of many midwestern voters from blue to red has many facets, as do the reasons why more U.S. voters chose Trump over Clinton on November 8th. As innumerable journalists, pundits, and everyday citizens debate the reasons for Donald Trump’s electoral victory, at least 1 thing seems clear: Many U.S. citizens are mad and dissatisfied with the political status quo, and as we did in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, have again “voted for change.”

Here are three key messages and questions which we can share with our students as educators in the face of so much FUD.

Your voice matters and I want to empower you to respectfully share your ideas with others.

Education in school and learning in life is about so much more than just passing tests and getting into college. As teachers, we need to continue to build positive relationships with our students. We need to cultivate classroom cultures of respect and kindness. And we need to EMPOWER our students to share their voices. Students need to be heard, and to learn how important their ideas and their opinions are. Nothing less than the future of our republic hinges on this.

We need to support “student voice” in our classrooms. This means we provide opportunities for students to develop their communication skills, and facilitate the respectful sharing of their ideas with a wider audience beyond the walls of our classrooms.

I use the phrase “facilitate the respectful sharing of their ideas” because there are plenty of examples of disrespectful idea and opinion sharing all around us. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll hear and see plenty of poor digital communication choices. As teachers, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to help our students learn and practice kindness and respect in their communication exchanges with others. This includes digital as well as face-to-face communication. As Mike McElroy poignantly tweeted today, we all should work to “Make America Kind Again.” As teachers, we have opportunities every day to talk about this with students and help them practice respectful communication.

Our democratic institutions rely on checks and balances, political participation, and free expression.

Whatever students or their parents think about the result of this Presidential election, we all need to both understand and support our democratic institutions. The United States is a very young country, and the political freedoms we enjoy are amazingly fragile. The rights guaranteed in our Constitution and Bill of Rights are not respected in many nations around the world. Throughout our history as a nation, the choices, personalities, and relationships of our leaders have had decisive effects on the course of history. While I hope Andrew Sullivan’s fears are misplaced about the potential for Donald Trump to usher in an era of fascism in the United States, the potential for this cannot be ignored and should not be minimized.

As Vox.com effectively pointed out in the 2014 video, “How a bill really becomes a law: What Schoolhouse Rock missed,” we have a complicated political system in the United States.

As teachers, we need to help our students understand the vital and continuing importance of checks and balances. Gridlock can be a frustrating political reality in Washington D.C., but it is clearly preferable to dictatorship.

Political participation can take many forms, and is essential for the healthy functioning of a democratic republic like the United States. The eyes of the world are literally upon us, as United States citizens, as we transfer power from the administration of Barack Obama to the administration of Donald Trump. Few things are as important as our demonstration that this political power transfer can be done peacefully and non-violently. Equally important, however, are the ways we engage in the political process in the weeks and months to come.

Consider sharing the 7 minute video of Al Gore’s concession speech to George Bush in December 2000. Invite students to study the words of the speech through WordClouds and textual analysis. Discuss the historical references included in the speech, and “democratic institutions” referenced and supported in it.

Social media has created echo chambers, but it also has and continues to empower individuals as well as organizations to communicate more powerfully than ever. As you help your students better understand the importance and role of respectful discourse and debate in our democracy, empower them to personally participate in these conversations both inside and outside the classroom.

How do we constructively and non-violently work for electoral change in the United States?

As a resident of Oklahoma City, I’ve visited the The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum numerous times. I’m relatively well informed about the life and tragic choices of Timothy McVeigh as US Army veteran who chose a violent act of terrorism as an act of political speech. McVeigh wasn’t a foreign terrorist. He was a U.S. born and bred terrorist. He was angry and very misguided.

During the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, we’ve seen some troubling examples of violence at his rallies. There have always been elements in our societies who favor violent means to achieve political ends. Let us not forget, as our eyes are focused on the election in the United States, that a very violent, bloody, and protracted war continues in Syria and Iraq. We need to remind and educate our students about the vital importance of non-violent, constructive political engagement for change.

We can and must work together to improve our democracy, and find non-violent ways to do this. Larry Lessig (@lessig) has the phrase, “Fix Democracy First,” on his Twitter header photo. This is the formidible task we need to face together with our students and colleagues. (fixdemocracyfirst.org@fixdemocracy1st)

Larry Lessig’s TED talk, “We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim” and his book, “The USA is Lesterland,” summarize the key challenges which lie before us with political reform.

Members of Congress and candidates for Congress spend anywhere between 30% and 70% of their time raising money to get themselves elected or their party back in power. But they raise that money not from all of us. Instead, they raise that money from the tiniest fraction of the 1%. Less than 1/20th of 1% of America are the “relevant funders” of congressional campaigns. That means about 150,000 Americans, or about the same number who are named “Lester,” wield enormous power over this government.

If the election of Donald Trump is to portend meaningful political change in the United States, we must address campaign finance reform. Whether the Trump administration supports it or not, “we the people” need to stand up (peacefully) for these changes. More helpful resources and information about these needed changes are available from The Sunlight Foundation. (@sunfoundation)

Conclusions

Our political future in the United States may seem more hazy and uncertain than it did Monday, but the importance of our roles and voices as educators in our nation should be clearer than ever. As we face a new day together with our students:

  1. Seek to empower your students to respectfully share their voices inside and outside the classroom.
  2. Educate your students about the importance of free speech, political checks and balances, and political participation.
  3. Explore with your students the ideas of Larry Lessig and the importance of U.S. political campaign finance reform to “fix democracy first.”

It’s not a coincidence our national coins don’t have an individual’s name at the top of it. We don’t place our faith just in single individuals. The character and decisions of our leaders make a difference, but it is in our Creator as well as our institutions that we place our faith and trust.

Whatever your spiritual perspectives, we have important work to do together. Let’s get back to it.

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One Response to Staying On Message in the Classroom After the Election

  1. For students in public schools, the response is straightforward. Every child knows that bullies exist, among their peers and adults. Our role as parents and teachers is to show them to fight back in a lawful manner, to resist without violence, even unto death. That is civil discourse and, when necessary, disobedience. We know that violent protest can only breed more of the same. And, in America, our Revolution lies far in the past in the hands of the more courageous, those who tweet not.

    For students in religious schools, we must take a tougher line. Jesus was crucified and in his resurrection, we see the triumph over evil and the Adversary even when we are beset with difficulty and/or slain. We have no hope of justice from civil authorities, fairness remains a dream that reality can only approximate by accident. Nor can we place our hope in evangelicals who are now revealed as hypocrites in support of a man no father with daughters would trust alone with them. While all have fallen short of the glory of God, in this election, we must remember Paul’s warning in1 Corinthians 1:18-31. Forgive me for remembering the comfort in the verses shown below:

    “…the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men…God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty”

    I place my trust that God will render justice, and with that in mind, I beg mercy for Trump, for the evangelicals, and, yes, you and I.

    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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