Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ugly and dirty: Ohio teachers try to explain election antics

By Mary Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

In what used to be a perfect time for a lesson in how government works, the tone of the presidential campaign is creating uncomfortable conversations in high school classrooms.

With the presidential election focused on the antics, accusations and scandals involving the candidates, some civics instructors say they've been faced with questions that typically would not be topics of conversation in their classrooms.

As an American History teacher at Licking Heights High School near Columbus, Gina Daniels says she's frustrated because students are getting the impression that politics is always ugly and dirty.

"It sets such a bad example for our students," says Daniels. "I spend a lot of time teaching my students that when we debate and discuss, it's OK to disagree with someone - but you never attack the person, it never gets personal. And right now, they're not getting a good example of that on a national stage."

In a recent survey conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than half of teachers said they've seen an increase in uncivil political discourse in the classroom, and 40 percent said they're reluctant to teach about the election.

Daniels says Donald Trump's degrading comments about women are spurring what she describes as "uncomfortable discussions" in her class about sexual assault.

"The girls in my class looked horrified as the boys tried to justify it as 'locker-room talk,'" she says. "And we had to have that whole discussion - 'No, this isn't OK. You don't understand what you're saying.' And the reason they're saying that is because they're hearing it's OK from a national candidate."

In the survey, some teachers reported hearing students use slurs and make inflammatory statements in regard to another student's gender, race or ethnicity. Daniels says the classroom is no place for bullying and harassment, and she works to create a safe place for all students.

"I have a lot of students in my school who are Muslim students, who are families of immigrants, and I think they're afraid to speak up because they are afraid of what they will hear," she stresses. "I don't like that at all. I want everyone to feel safe and feel like they can share their thoughts and discuss things."

More than two-thirds of the teachers in the survey reported that some students, mainly children of immigrants and Muslims, have said they're worried about what might happen to their families after the election.

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