Journal of Educational Controversy


Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Trump Effect: a Southern Poverty Law Center report.

One issue surrounding the 2016 presidential election has been the effect a candidate’s platform and behavior can have in areas outside of politics. More than ever before, classrooms across the country are seeing the campaign come home as increased bullying, confusion, and fear permeate education. The effect is noticeable. During the second debate the first question asked of the candidates was whether they felt they were “modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?” [1] In the same debate, Secretary Clinton mentioned a phenomenon sweeping our nation’s schools, “You know, children listen to what is being said,” she said. “And there’s a lot of fear — in fact, teachers and parents are calling it The Trump Effect.”

The recent report The Trump Effect: The impact of the presidential campaign on our nation’s schools published by the Southern Poverty Law Center discusses the impact of the presidential campaign on our nation’s schools. It documents the “Trump Effect” in schools as heightened fear and anxiety in students accompanied by harassment and bullying. Teachers report being hesitant of bringing up the election to students who are afraid of the changes they see looming after the elections are finalized. According to one of the interviewed teachers from a Virginia school “My second-graders are scared. They’re scared of being sent back to their home countries. They’re scared of losing their education.” Also, teachers notice that their students adopt the hate speech and bullying tactics they see on television. “Teachers report that students have been ‘emboldened’ to use slurs, engage in name-calling and make inflammatory statements toward each other. When confronted, students point to the candidates and claim they are ‘just saying what everyone is thinking.’” It is clear that teachers face a difficult decision. If teachers discuss the election they face the obstacle of students who are terrified of this discussion, or passionate to the point of derailing a whole class at the mention of the election.

Long before the second debate many could feel the effects of this presidential election in the classroom. According to the report, “In response to the statement ‘I am hesitant to teach about the 2016 presidential election,’ 43 percent of K-12 educators answered ‘yes.’” In anecdotal responses to similar questions one teacher reports “I try to not bring it up since it is so stressful for my students.” Teachers affected by the Trump Effect feel the need to teach traditional civics lessons but are hesitant to use the current election because of the fear experienced by their students and because many believe the candidates themselves fail to embody the civic values they hope to teach.

As The Trump Effect states, “Preparing students for citizenship continues to be one of the three broad goals that all sides have agreed must be the purpose of schools: college, career and citizenship.”[2] As such, many teachers have traditionally assigned viewing the debates to teach their students about government and civic duty. However, the article raises questions of how to teach an ideal of citizenship when those who should embody that ideal fall short of the mark. It concludes with one teacher expressing concerns for the future of politics saying of their students “I hope they don’t walk away thinking this is what politics is all about.”

The study detailed in this report was not scientific. Researchers surveyed approximately 2,000 k-12 teachers and received 5,000 comments in response to the questions posed.[3]  All participants of this study chose to participate. The results show a disturbing nationwide problem highlighted in the report as the following:
• More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that
students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants
and Muslims—have expressed concerns or
fears about what might happen to them or their families
after the election.
• More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political
• More than one-third have observed an increase in
anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
• More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about
the election.[4]

Participants responded to open ended questions where they could provide free responses and were asked if they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements. The list of questions can be found in the report at:

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