Last week, I received a text from “Karen from Mike Bloomberg’s campaign.” She wrote that “with so much at stake, Americans deserve a Democratic candidate who can beat Donald Trump” and asked if I will support Mike.
This message comes just four days after my collaborating teacher and I co-led our annual lesson on the Black Lives Matter movement as a part of #blacklivesmatteratschool.
This message comes three days after my students engaged in a reflective conversation on the social and political progress Black people and other historically marginalized groups have made over the decades. This message comes three days after my student Antonio asked me, “Why did America elect Donald Trump after Barack Obama?” and “Why haven’t we had a woman president?” This message comes three days after I explained that in 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black candidate for a major party’s presidential nomination and that there is a quiet history of women running for president across parties.
This message comes three days after I realized that none of my 50 students, Latino and Black, could name the only (and first) Latino candidate who was running for president; None of my students could name a single candidate of color; None of my students could name a single female candidate. “But Mike Bloomberg is running for president,” Antonio said. My eyes widened as I asked, “How many have heard of presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg?” I asked. All of them raised their hands.
My 8 and 9-year-old students are bright and inquisitive. They watch the news. They talk to their parents and siblings about events taking place in our city and country. They can tell you about Chicago’s relatively new mayor and the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2019. But they are also children. They spend a hefty chunk of their non-academic waking hours playing video games, watching YouTube, recording videos on Tik-Tok and watching television with their parents.
Every other advertisement and commercial they see is for Bloomberg. As a result, that’s one of the prominent names buzzing around the Back of the Yards—a vibrant, predominantly Mexican-American community on Chicago’s southwest side.
So when Owen’s eyes lit up at the recognition of this candidate’s name during our class discussion and he quickly spouted out the campaign slogan “Mike Bloomberg—Mike will get it done!”—I find myself rapidly thinking about the developmentally appropriate way to explain Bloomberg’s intentionally racist stop-and-frisk policy and its impact on people of color in New York.
My mind races as I search for the words to celebrate my students’ genuine interest in the politics of our past and present but caution them against believing everything they see on TV. We discuss the difference between sharing information and spreading rumors, we review facts versus opinions, we agree that no one has all of the answers and that money alone does not make you more qualified to lead than anyone else. We accept that it’s all of our jobs to create and agree to the rules we want people to follow, to protect those who need protection, to hold accountable those who have made commitments and strive for what’s just even when it is difficult.
So, Karen. I agree there is a lot at stake in this presidential election. Will I support Mike? A better question is: Will Mike support Black and Latino youth? Will Mike listen to and believe the stories of people of color? Will Mike craft and defend policies that disproportionately harm the people so many of his advertisements are targeting? I will make sure my students know all the facts.