Last Wednesday I went to my daughter’s school to celebrate her second-grade teacher’s recent wedding. But it was a hard day for celebrating. When we arrived, I saw a couple of middle-school girls walk through the doors with tears running down their cheeks.
Though I wrote last week that a Trump administration likely will have limited effect on much of education policy, it is already having big effects on the children in our schools.
Like many schools on Chicago’s southwest side, the vast majority of students at my daughter’s school are from low-income families with origins in Latin America. We know that not all the families in our schools and neighborhoods have legal status here. And we also know that all children in K-12 schools, no matter what their legal status, have the legal right to an education. A 1982 Supreme Court decision affirmed that right, no matter how often people forget.
Unfortunately, some school districts in some states have had trouble getting the memo. A strong U.S. Department of Education has helped force them to do the right thing. Under Trump, that spur to do the right thing is likely to weaken or disappear.
We also know that both the campaign and the election have been linked to spikes in hate crimes. My colleague, Valentina Korkes, got this post-election effect on students absolutely right: they’re terrified. And as concerned adults, we parents and teachers must step up for them. Educators will be on the front lines fighting bullying, intolerance and hate crimes. And they will be the ones making sure students know their rights.
Even one of these acts in a school is too many, and there have been far more than one. At the same time, district and school leaders have stepped up around the country to let all their students know they are welcome and beloved. Evanston Township High School just north of Chicago is just one of them.
Even as we shudder at the high-profile news stories, we must remember the good things happening within the schools themselves. Students are leaving surprise sticky notes on their classmates’ lockers. Teachers are developing their own curricula about the election and the issues.
And national organizations are lending a hand and offering resources.
Here are just a few:
- For the last 25 years Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been offering teachers curricula and resources to reduce prejudice and support equitable school experiences for all children. Their latest, Perspectives for a Diverse America, combines central texts that foster rigorous discussion of social justice issues. Just yesterday, executive director Maureen Costello offered tips for school administrators and invited educators to complete a survey about how the climate in their schools has been since the election.
- Another organization with deep roots in the work is Facing History and Ourselves. Their global perspective offers insight for how other countries struggling with profound divisions have rebuilt civil society. They also offer lessons and tips for teachers struggling to facilitate difficult conversations among students with conflicting views.
- GLSEN offers both anti-bullying lessons and curriculum on LGBT issues to help schools create more inclusive communities. Last week they showcased examples of teachers supporting their students and offered more ways to help students struggling with fear in the wake of the election results.
Even as we adults continue to grapple with what a Trump presidency may mean for our schools, we must keep working to make them a haven of safety and civil discourse for all our children.
Readers, I invite you to share your best resources for this work in the comments.