By Mary Kay Turner
Respect and good communication, which includes listening as well as talking, are essential in healthy relationships. Fear, hate and anger are obstacles to healthy relationships and good communication. Bullying happens when one person or group shows disrespect or contempt for another person or group. Bullies speak, but they do not listen to or value other people.
Does bullying happen on a national scale? We all know that this primary season has been much different from anything before, as some people in the news have displayed disrespect and contempt for other people. We have heard name-calling, threats, talk of building a wall, deporting people, and banning people of certain cultures from entering the country.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program provides curriculum materials to teach students about different groups of people. This knowledge helps students understand students who are different from them and learn to treat all students with respect.
In March 2016 Teaching Tolerance in a voluntary survey asked teachers, observing before and after the presidential campaign began, if they agreed with statements about increases in 1) anti-immigrant sentiment, 2) anti-Muslim sentiment, 3) uncivil political discourse at their schools, and 4) concerns by students about what might happen to them after the election. Responses here are from the publication “Teaching the 2016 Election” by Maureen B. Costello.
About 2,000 K-12 teachers across the country responded to questions about the effects of the rhetoric of the campaign on their students. More than 2/3 of the teachers reported that many students of color have expressed concerns about what might happen to them and their families after the election. More than 1/2 have seen an increase in uncivil political speech. Teachers are troubled by use of half-truths and lies in speeches. Passion for candidates and loss of rationality in discussions concern them. More than 1/3 have seen an increase in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim incidents. Students are calling other students names, even the n-word. Students have told teachers that name-calling and “trash talk” aren’t bullying, just “telling it like it is.” Teachers report that gains from years of anti-bullying work have declined in a few months.
Educators reported: A kindergarten student fearfully asks every day if the wall is here yet. Young students wonder why people can hate them without even knowing them. One teacher in a diverse school wrote that her students feel that America hates them. Students are confused by seeing that certain campaigns are allowed to encourage racism, violence, anger and hate. Many teachers wrote, “It breaks my heart.”
Students are scared, dejected, and hurt. Some African-American middle school students fear for their safety after seeing Trump rallies on the news. Students fear that they will be deported and that other students hate them. In Ferguson, MO, 90% of the students are African-American, and some students wonder if all white people truly think what they are hearing.
What does it say to us and our students when some candidates and people campaigning display behavior that is not even acceptable for students in elementary schools? Where is the respect?