As Election Nears, Teachers Seek to Curb Inflammatory Rhetoric in Classrooms

By Madeline Will — October 04, 2016 2 min read
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Instead of casting their mock ballots for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, gifted and talented students across Floyd County in Georgia will be voting for historical candidates—or even fictional ones.

“We thought this election was a little too intense for the elementary and primary students,” teacher Judy Roebuck told the Rome News-Tribune. “The gifted teachers in the county do usually let the kids vote like they are participating in the real election, but it seemed best this year to choose some other candidates.”

Roebuck chose to frame the mock election around former presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in her school. Another school in the county put children’s book characters, Duck (from “Duck for President”) and Grace (from “Grace for President”), on the ballot.

As I reported last month, teachers across the country have been hesitant to have their students participate in a mock election this year due to the divisive nature of this presidential campaign. Educators are particularly worried about their students impersonating Trump, whose campaign rhetoric is often inflammatory and targeted at specific groups of people.

Whether or not abandoning mock elections is the solution, more and more educational organizations are calling for increased civility in the campaign with a new sense of urgency. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers launched a campaign this week that blames Trump’s rhetoric for an increase in bullying in schools (although my colleague Evie Blad spoke to a bullying researcher who said there is not enough data to say definitively that there has been an increase).

A survey released today by Highlights for Children found that 80 percent of kids are talking about the election at home, and they’re picking up on what adults in their lives are saying. In an election season marked by accusations of deceit, 44 percent of kids surveyed said that honesty is the most important quality for a president to possess—followed by kindness, which 19 percent picked. The report, conducted by a market-research firm, surveyed 2,000 children aged 6 to 12 in April and May.

Teaching Tolerance, an education group of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has created a Speak Up for Civility contract for adults—teachers, school staff members, and parents—to sign, promising to model good citizenship for students. And the organization Facing History and Ourselves has created a guide for educators to foster civil discourse in the classroom.

Those two groups are hosting a Twitter chat tonight at 7 pm to discuss how educators can create constructive and civil classroom environments this election season. The hashtag for the chat is #Civility2016.

Photo: Campaign signs and posters in a 9th grade U.S. government class at Valley View Middle School in Edina, Minn. Ackerman + Gruber for Education Week.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.