How Should Teachers Discuss the 2016 Election?

Punita RiceTeaching

How should teachers talk about the 2016 election? Myra Eastman Voting Painting

How should teachers discuss the 2016 election with students? Maureen Costello, the director of the “Teaching Tolerance” website, in her opinion piece asked the same thing.

Her post opens with a brief overview of how teachers typically cover “election-year fever” and journalism around it, and goes on to discuss the distasteful news coverage surrounding the 2016 election: news outlets that cater to particular ideologies and a lack of “hard news” replaced by “opinion and bluster” (Costello, 2016). The article examines the poor quality of the media coverage surrounding the election (and consequently, the challenges that may arise in teaching students about it), and asks how teachers will teach students about the 2016 election.

How should teachers discuss the 2016 election?

I don’t know the correct answer to this question, and would want to pick the brains of my colleagues on this. And this question might make for a powerful staff development session, especially in the context of wanting to teach students to think independently and critically and recognize the context in which they live (as recommended by James Baldwin in his powerful 1963 speech, and in the 1963 piece “The Negro child: His self-image”)… And in the parallel context of trying to teach students about the election process without bias.

How Should Teachers Talk about the 2016 Election?

Large text graphic originally from Montana Public Radio.

In some ways, the resource itself demonstrates Banks’s (2015) concept of the reflective nationalism stage of cultural identity. Costello examines the discriminatory and offensive nature of a particular political candidate’s views, and how those views do not fit in with the national culture. Nor do they align with the national value for diversity and multiculturalism. Thus, Costello ponders:

“If I were a teacher today, could I keep my distaste for what passes as civil discourse in the media at bay?”

Discussion prompt with teachers

I’d love the opportunity to use this resource as a discussion prompt with a team of teachers. If I could plan with a team, I’d use a three-step process. This way, we could plan best way to handle the election in an instructional setting.

First, we’d develop a Pro/Pro List. Next, we’d do a Round-table discussion. Finally, we could have an Independent reflection.

  1. First, participants could independently write down the advantages of discussing the election and related proceedings from a completely neutral and unbiased way. (Although Baldwin would argue this is not appropriate). Next, participants could create a similar list of advantages to discussing the election and related proceedings (and discussions that Costello says “too easily slip into xenophobia”). We could do this through the lens of identifying instances of intolerance and prejudice.
  2. In the second step (after having been given the opportunity to consider the value of both approaches), we could work together. Participants could group together to bounce ideas off one another. This could give everyone a chance to consider the possible merits of both approaches. This would be the longest component of the exercise, and would (hopefully) result in some interesting discussions.
  3. In the final stage, participants would independently reflect on what they had learned. Then, they’d report how they would handle related discussions in their classes going forward.

How Should Teachers Talk about the 2016 Election?

What do you think?

With all of this in mind, how should teachers cover the 2016 election? Like I said — I don’t know the correct answer. That said, I do think others might have answers for me. If you’re a teacher, how do you plan to talk to students about this year’s election? And more importantly, if you’re a parent:

How do you wish your children’s teachers would talk to them about this year’s election?

(Painting by Myra Eastman, from the Voting Series)

P.S. – This seems like a good time to spread kindness.