Friday, March 4, 2016

This Election Is Good For Anti-Bullying Curriculum

After the most recent Republican debate (is that still the word we're using?) thinkpieces began springing up all over Twitter's Education Country. The gist is simple- "This Election Hurts Anti-Bullying Curriculum."

First, let's be clear. We're not talking about the entire election. We're not talking about a select group who's support of one candidate has gotten a little, let's say, aggressive against the stated wishes of the candidate they're being aggressive for. When articles lead with, "the presidential campaign" they are being disingenuous. We're all talking about His Orangeness and the Two Stooges. The Democratic debates have gotten heated at times, but have almost entirely been centered around policy and even when the moderator tried to make it personal the candidates refused to engage. The last Republican debate had editors scrambling for a way to put, "Trump made reference to the size of his tower," in a headline that would get past work firewalls. I work in an elementary school and I wasn't impressed with the comebacks from Sanctimonious Second Place and Thirsty Third Place either.

Nonetheless, this display from the Grand Old Penis-reference has educators in a tizzy about What To Tell The Children. How can we teach bullying tactics when the tactics we try to prevent are so prominently on display in the contest to be the most powerful person in the free world? Why, why must these men be the model our students see? Look how much harder our job is now.

At first glance this stance bothered me from an admittedly flip perspective. I teach 5th grade and none of my kids are watching the debates closely. I'd like them to, we've mentioned them, but it's not appointment viewing for them. Are they in the room if their parents watch? Probably, and I'd hope their parents are talking about what they are seeing with them. I have no control over that, however.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I came to disagree with the stance that the Republican Insult Comedy Hour(s) is bad for schools. Not to be contrarian, but I think it's great for schools. It's an amazing chance for us to have real-world examples of actual bullies in the wild. And in contention for a position of power. This is a boon for anti-bullying lesson-planning and for a wider conversation about what it means to be a leader, what it means to debate, and how bullying can have real, long-term, damaging effects.

Here's the trick though- you have to be blatantly honest and open about what is happening. We can't dance around it. Go head-on, not from a political bent, but from a behavior one. Ask kids if they know anything about Trump's attempted erect- I mean- election. Let them bring the conversation to you. Show parts of the debacle. Pick it apart. "What do you see? What did you hear? What do you think?" Explicitly state that your purpose is to talk about how humans should treat each other and that's all.

It's not just each other they're bullying either. It's bullying writ large. Trump and his followers are openly racist, hateful, and sexist (Cruz is too, you just need to dig for thirty seconds). They're bullying wide swaths of Americans. Gay Americans. Americans of color. Muslim Americans. Women. Take a breath and use that if you're concerned about it impacting your kids, and we should be concerned. Too often we hide our heads from real education issues in favor of taking a stand on something safe, like homework. Watch how Trump and Trump supporters deal with silent protests. Ask your kids not if they agree with what the person is protesting (unless you think that's a conversation you can have), but if their protest deserves the reaction it got. Ask if any protest deserves that reaction. "How do we handle people we disagree with, children?" I bet you the answer won't be, "Take their coats and push, shove, and verbally abuse them into the streets." And it really won't be "sucker punch them." This is when the anti-bullying rubber hits the road.

We walk a dangerous line. How political can we get as teachers and get away with it? Want to be fair and balanced? Show clips from the Democratic debates too. Do a Tone Check. Count the shouting matches. Compare them 1:1 still with the focus of bullying and behavior. Don't tell your kids how to vote or who you're voting for. But if we're legitimately concerned with how students are reading and internalizing the behaviors they see on TV from the those who would be king then it is our responsibility as educators to educate. To open the floor to conversation. Not preaching from on high, but watching and discussing.

We talk about preparing students for the "real world" so we implement STEAM and ditch textbooks. But we're scared to say, "Watch these men interact and tell me what you think. If you did this to another student, what would happen? Tell me if this is appropriate behavior." Use the Farce, Luke.

The Repugnant campaign is full of horrible role models for our students. So shine a light. In this way we might prevent an election from getting this far again.

And don't forget to vote. All the thinkpieces in the world don't matter if the bullies win.

I want to note I've always taught in, if not progressive, at the least middle-of-the-road, areas. I've no idea how this advice rings to some of my friends in the redder parts of the country and I admit that your mileage may vary. I'd love to hear if you think you can use the campaign's negative energy in a positive way without harsh kickback.

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