My heart is heavy today after the conversations I was forced to have with the children I teach. I teach in a low-income, racially diverse elementary school just across the border to a large city. My students have various learning disabilities, but they are astute and curious about the world around them.
On Monday, we held a mock election and the children were very excited to be a part of the election hooplah. Many voted for one candidate or the other for childlike reasons…”She’s a girl”, “I like the boy”, “She has a blue jacket on and I like blue.” Others voted based on what they have heard their parents saying. A few voted their own conscience, against how they knew their parents were voting.
As always happens during an election year, my students ask me who I plan to vote for. Of course, I maintain neutrality and tell them that voting is a secret process and you do not need to share your vote with anyone. I never ask who they voted for. This year, their questioning was more insistent and had a greater purpose.
They were attempting to figure out what their place would be in Trump’s America. They were carefully watching the television and they were scared by what they saw. To a child, all of my students confided in me that they did not like Donald Trump and that he scared them.
This morning, they awoke to the news that Mr. Trump would be our next president. We had some amazing discussions. They asked great questions about the election process itself, asking me about the red and blue map. (For fun one day, try to explain the Electoral College to a third grader. I dare you!)
But all but my youngest children had more serious questions. Questions for which I did not have a good answer. I see my students in small intervention groups throughout the day. In every group, I heard a variation of the same question. “Ms. Smith, what will happen to us? I heard that Donald Trump doesn’t like black people. Is that true?” How do you answer that? He has certainly not given me evidence that he likes black people (or Mexican people, or Muslim people, or female people…I could go on). But I cannot say that to children. Yet, I cannot in good conscience say that yes, indeed, he loves black people.
One very astute young lady, a fifth grader, has seen ads on TV highlighting all of the demeaning statements Mr. Trump has said about women. “Ms. Smith, how can he say things like that about women and girls? Does he not like girls? How do you feel as a woman when he says those things? Is it OK for boys to talk to us like that?” No…no, my child, it is certainly not. That one got answered honestly. I told the girls in the group that it was certainly not OK for men or boys to talk to them in a demeaning way. And I told the boys in the group that it was definitely not OK to talk to women and girls in that kind of way. The boys all told me that they knew that already, and why didn’t Mr. Trump? Again I had no answer.
“Ms. Smith, what about [Muslim girl’s name]? Will she have to go back to her country? She says it was bad there.”
“Ms. Smith, my daddy is from the Sudan. Will he have to go back to Africa?”
“Ms. Smith, my mom says I should never say mean things to people. You tell me not to say mean things to people. If Donald Trump says mean things to people, how can he be President?”
“Ms. Smith, do you like Donald Trump?”
We got very little reading or math done today. And I left with a weight on my soul. These are precious babies, all under the age of 11, and they have grown-up worries in their hearts. They have grown-up questions.
And I have no answers.