Social Studies

In Maryland, Taking On the Election Directly Helps School Move Forward

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — November 23, 2016 3 min read
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For many Americans, the weeks following the 2016 presidential election have been a wild ride. Republican Donald Trump’s win after most pollsters predicted a victory for Democrat Hillary Clinton has been followed by more than the usual amount of post-election polarization, turmoil, and uncertainty. That’s trickled into schools, where some students have led protests as others have celebrated the new president, and where teachers on both sides of the political spectrum have been disciplined for how they’ve chosen to teach about the election.

But in one Maryland school, teachers report that the social and academic work they have done before and since Election Day has helped their school navigate the weeks after the election and hold productive conversations about the results.

Education Week spoke to staff at North East High School in Maryland about what’s happened at their school since Nov. 8. Education Week had visited North East High School earlier this year to do a piece for PBS NewsHour about how schools were teaching about Election 2016 in the run-up to the election. In that video story, we found social studies teacher Bruce Fox teaching a lesson in sorting out “scandals, lies, and incivility” in the presidential election.

Education Week checked back with Fox in the weeks after the election. He said that he has focused on encouraging his students to examine the multiple perspectives voters might have had. “As teachers, I think it’s part of our job to help them pop that bubble they might be living in,” Fox said.

Video: North East High School teacher Bruce Fox talks about teachers’ roles in helping students understand the 2016 election.

Sharon Thomas, an English/language Arts teacher at North East, brought in print copies of the speeches each candidate gave after the election.

Thomas said that there was some tension between student supporters of the different candidates as the lesson began, but that students calmed down as they began to work on an analytical activity rooted in the text of the speeches.

Video: North East High School teacher Sharon Thomas discusses a lesson on Hillary Clinton’s concession speech and Donald Trump’s victory speech that she taught the day after the 2016 election.

David Foye, the school’s principal, said that teachers who addressed the election head on and encouraged students to back up opinions with facts are helping students process the events as they unfurl.

Video: North East High School principal David Foye discusses how the school approached the election.

Proponents of civics education have long argued that schools need to prioritize teaching young people about the workings of government and their civic duties. The Civics Education Initiative, a project of the Joe Foss Institute in Arizona, is aiming to require all students to take a test on U.S. government in order to graduate, while the state of Illinois recently began requiring a civics course for high schoolers. Secretary of Education John King recently spoke about the civic mission of schools.

The election catalyzed many teachers to search for productive ways to help students understand a political landscape full of polarizing rhetoric and events, as my colleague Madeline Will reported earlier this year. For more on teaching during the days after the presidential election, check out this story from the Teaching Now blog.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.