Too little, too late
President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday disavowed and condemned white supremacists who have glommed onto his presidency as a validation of their movement.
But for many of the country’s schoolchildren, including some here in Mesa County, the president’s words are too little, too late.
In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report, “The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools,” that found the presidential campaign was having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.
That was before Trump secured the GOP nomination. During the campaign, Trump spoke of deporting millions of Latino immigrants, building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, halting Muslim immigration and even killing the families of Islamic terrorists. Since then, he’s pulled back on some of those positions and vowed to be president for all Americans. But the hateful campaign rhetoric has trickled to the playgrounds and hallways of Mesa County schools.
The Sentinel’s Katie Langford recounted several disturbing instances of Hispanic students being bullied by other students and even teachers, according to a District 51 administrator.
There are two problems with this. The first is that no child should feel threatened in school. The district has a firm policy on this, but is having problems dealing with alleged incidents of harassment because those who have reported racially based bullying behavior have thus far been unwilling to identify their tormentors out of fear of retaliation.
The second problem is that teachers are caught in the crossfire of this cultural normalization of bigotry. For decades, presidential elections have been used to teach students about the electoral college, democracy, government and the responsibilities of citizenship. This election, teachers may have avoided the topic entirely or tiptoed around it.
Instead of modeling the civility and civic values that we want all children to learn in school, Trump introduced kids to coarseness. His divisive and juvenile rhetoric found a ready audience in juveniles themselves.
An email sent to District 51 staff by Superintendent Steve Schultz acknowledged the problems at hand and reiterated that schools are “safe havens” focused on educating students and safeguarding their well-being.
Susana Wittrock, the executive director of advocacy, outreach and connections at the district, said administrators are encouraging staff to speak out and address bullying behavior.
Teachers will do what they can, but the biggest difference maker would be Trump himself.
The president-elect has been quick to express outrage over protesters upset by the outcome of the presidential election or the cast of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” for directing a message at Mike Pence, observed CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “but he doesn’t seem to go out of the way to express his outrage over people hailing him with Nazi salutes.”
For the sake of our children and teachers, let’s hope he begins. Meanwhile, parents and mentors can do their part by addressing this issue with kids in their sphere of influence.