The 2016 presidential campaign is unlike any other campaign in recent history. For the most part, election 2016 has carried an inflammatory tone in both the news and social media that the issues discussed have seemingly elicited fear and anxiety in both youth and families.
Consequently, the media, in an attempt to shape the perceptions of both candidates, has provided a forum that encourages students to mimic the words and the tone of the candidates making discussion of the election, in general, very difficult for teachers to discuss in the classroom.
Teachers are challenged to guide students to use critical thinking skills in making good decisions based on evidence and facts. While presidential campaigns help young people to learn about democracy, this year children are absorbing a lot of negative messages from both candidates. Correspondingly, it can be extremely difficult to take in an impersonal or objective viewpoint about the election by limiting emotions, bias, opinions, assumptions, and perceptions of the process. In teaching tolerance, teachers can guide children to begin to think critically so that they can conceptualize and ultimately make an informed decision about the ideas presented by the candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign.
There are a number of resources found online at www.tolerance.org that discuss the need for teaching tolerance to children so that everyone can talk about the election, explore the issues and weigh the candidates and their proposed policies. The website contains a “Pocket Pledge” that can be cutout and given to students.
The pocket pledge reads:
I pledge to discuss this election with civility, to treat people whose opinions differ from mine with respect, and to focus on ideas, policies and values. I will encourage others to do the same. I will speak up when I hear name-calling, stereotypes and slurs. I will do this because children are listening, and it’s important that adults model good citizenship.
In addition to other resources available, a link to a Civility Contract can be found on www.tolerance.org/civility. Use the contract as is, or use these ideas to design your own classroom agreement:
Speak up for Civility An Election 2016 Contract
- Call the candidates by name. When talking about the election, we will refer to the candidates using their proper names and titles rather than derogatory nicknames.
- Respect each other. We will not criticize other people for disagreeing with us.
- Be curious and open-minded. When we disagree, we’ll try to understand other perspectives. We will say, “Why do you think that?” instead of “You’re wrong.” We will allow for the possibility that what we hear might teach us something.
- Speak up. We will remind each other of our civility contract when we hear disrespectful or unfair words about the candidates or groups of people.
- Explain our reasoning. When we express support or opposition to a candidate, we will critique or endorse their ideas, policies or behavior using civil language that draws on concrete evidence.
- Involve the kids. We will talk with our kids about the election, about our concerns and about what kind of country we want them to inherit. We will tell them what traits we value in a candidate, what policies we support and how we weigh our decisions about who to vote for.
- Encourage kids. We will empower our children to have their own opinions, even if they gravitate toward a candidate or political party we don’t support.
- Mind the messages. Whether it’s on TV or in a social media post, our kids witness what we view and share. We will be mindful of the messages we bring into their lives.
Despite the inflammatory tone of this year’s election cycle, there are productive ways that teachers can have these conversations civilly and respectfully. Teaching tolerance in the classroom will help students to stay civil and prepare for discussions about the election in the classroom, but also with adults in the school community.
Tolerance is necessary so that the decision maker guards against information that can lead to a faulty outcome. Gathering and using evidence and factual information will help students to make a better decision about the information they are hearing from both candidates. Through tolerance, factual information is corroborated through credible sources to help balance disagreements that arise from the discussion.
It is important that our young people learn about democracy through a variety of forums, such as the debates, and by researching the issues through publications and newspapers. The challenge for teachers is to encourage students, as citizens, by having conversations both civilly and respectfully. Through teacher-guided civic engagement in the classroom, students can explore the issues and weigh the candidates and their proposed policies.