Friday, November 11, 2016

Social Studies Teachers as Front-Line Responders in Times of Civic Divisiveness and Distress

“Daddy, do we have to leave the country?”
-3rd grade Muslim student (Chicago, IL)

When the world seems to stop, people tend to turn to social studies teachers. I remember being in a classroom after 9/11 and my students looking forward to coming to our history class in order to make sense of the unfolding events. Who is Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and why do they hate us? What should our nation’s response be? In our  nation’s social studies classrooms, students found refuge and a safe-haven to discuss these events, our individual and national responses, and coping mechanisms and insights to better understand what was happening. I remember teachers and administrators also seeking out the support and counsel of social studies teachers. Administrators and teachers also felt the need to discuss this significant current event with someone who understood our nation’s politics, history, and economics. In fact, many administrators invited (as they still do) social studies teachers to organize school-wide assemblies and programming on civic responsibility and pride following the events of 9/11.

After a significant current event, divisive election, massive protest, or devastating man-made and/or natural disaster, the social studies classroom has served as, and will serve as, a form of “group therapy” and as information hubs for students, teachers, and administrators grappling with the events as they unfold. Social studies teachers become the “go to” front-line responders in schools as people try to understand, reflect upon, and make meaning of current events and issues.

Knowing a social studies teacher’s unique positionality in times of national civic struggle, it makes me wonder how social studies teachers are responding to the aftermath of the hotly contested 2016 election resulting in a President-Elect Donald Trump? The rhetoric and divisiveness surrounding this election was nothing short of intense, in particular the views and comments expressed by President-Elect Trump. While Mr. Trumps words may have been “political smoke” to win conservative votes, the truth is many people in the U.S. and around the world are fearful and scared. On November 9th (the day after the election), millions of Americans and their families woke-up and wondered what their place in this new America would be. Undocumented Mexican workers and their families are scared about the possibility of imminent deportation, Muslim Americans fear increased governmental surveillance and bigotry, African Americans are less convinced that Black Lives Matter, women continue to worry about their status and are fearful of heightened crude and abusive male attitudes and acts, and LGBT Americans and their families fear their rightfully awarded marriages and recognized family units will be dissolved. Below I report three examples shared with me the day after Election Day that will tug at most heart-strings and showcase examples of the real fear that exists in America following this election:
  • 3am  (shortly after election results are posted): A gay friend announced on Facebook that he and his partner of a year will be getting  married in the next few weeks; fearful that a President Trump will support Supreme Court Justices committed to dismantling and dissolving the recognized marriages of LGBT Americans. They are fearful the LGBT historic progress and protections made under President Obama will be undone.
  • 6am: A 3rd grade, native born Muslim student woke-up in Chicago and asks his dad who won the election. After his dad informs the youngster that Donald Trump won the election, the 3rd grader asks if the family is going to be deported out of the U.S. and lose his friends.
  • 3pm: A white female University student serving as an adult mentor to a black 6th grader in the Akron Public Schools informs me (her professor) that her 6th grader is crying and will not talk to her. The 6th grader had asked her mentor who she voted for yesterday, and the mentor reported Donald Trump. The black student felt she could no longer trust her mentor anymore, as a white adult.  For more stories of youth fear after the 2016 election click here.
After a divisive national Presidential election filled with hate-speech and anger, students and educators in our nation’s classrooms and communities need attentive and engaged social studies teachers, of whom are trained in the totem to civic education, the social studies. Their words, deeds, actions and in-actions matter, as people and families look for guidance and support. Characteristics of this support includes social studies teachers serving as culturally and content competent responders to help people understand, reflect upon, and make meaning of these events. Moreover, social studies teachers have an obligation to create a safe classroom space where diverse views, standpoints, and perspectives can be shared and discussed. Social studies teachers must model constructive and appropriate discourse, demonstrate a strong understanding of history/social studies content, provide students with the opportunity to delve into historical/social science documents and perspectives to learn for themselves the lessons of the past, and to have students take informed action in their communities to create a more inclusive and sustainable world.  For example, Jim Cullen, a high school history teacher in New York, described in the Hechinger Report (11-9-2016) how he was able to use his history class in helping to alleviate some despair and anxiety amongst youth following the 2016 election. Social Studies teachers must take great pride in the responsibility of serving as front-line responders in schools during difficult times of civic divisiveness and distress, and moreover, understand the significant obligations and necessity of being well-trained and prepared for this important task.

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.