“I hate America.”
“We’re all doomed.”
While the sentiments I’ve overheard the morning after the election are, admittedly, ones I’ve thought, said and written about, I am particularly silenced as the aftermath truly hits me.
These statements, which certainly could belong to a number of Americans, are straight from the mouths of babes. Our youth, our high school students, our next generation of leaders are learning and forming opinions based on what we present. Whether it’s jokes about the physical appearance of our political candidates or fear-induced anxiety attacks about a loss of rights, the locker room talk that really matters is that which is laced with the next group of parents, teachers, business owners and, most importantly, voters.
As an educator in the public sector, I am not to share my political, religious or otherwise controversial beliefs. While I have a strong stance nonetheless, I have chosen to remain quiet as I observe the teens around me. Here’s what I know:
My students are angry. My students are opinionated. My students are hateful, confused and crass about the current political debacle and our newest Presdient-elect. My students are mean to one another; they disagree in a fashion that is black and white, without wiggle room or constructive feedback.
But what else do they know? As a woman who is scared for my own loss of rights, the loss of rights of my diverse friends and family and the perpetual privilege of white males, I certainly did not cast my vote for Donald Trump. I, too, have a fair amount of confusion, anger and loss boiling inside of me. So I understand. Whether they are red, blue, mixed or simply unspoken, I hurt for my students, but I fear for them as well.
So I choose now, in the face of what many of us thought was an unreachable outcome, to react positively. Because if we come “together” as segmented groups who cast hateful, opinionated, confused, crass ideations about voters and leaders alike, what are we teaching our next generation? What are we fighting with? Intelligence or fury? Which would you rather our President of the United States operate under?
I choose now to listen. I choose to listen to the younger generation, the population who feels as if they do not have a voice, who feels they are an audience awaiting inevitable change without any involvement. I choose to create a classroom and an environment that does not react fiercely and deaftly to disagreement, but who asks questions, speaks up and presents vulnerability. I choose to not rely on one leader, but on many.
Donald Trump has impacted my life already. Because as an educator who looks forward to Advanced Placement English students, teaching the intelligent and the motivated, I overlook motivating and intellectualizing those who, perhaps, are neglected most. Trump reminded me that it’s not just those who are willing to be influential who can be influential.
I am a single, white, educated woman. I hold bias. I hold privilege. I hold intellect, fear, naivety and poise in one vessel. I also hold the attention of dozens of young eyes and minds each and every day though. Do you?
I cast my vote for the President of the United States, and I did not get what I wanted. As popular vote has shown, clearly I am not alone. So what do I do with this? What do we do with this? Rally? Protest? Generalize? Bury myself in social media posts about my distaste? Cry?
Maybe. Maybe we really do need all of those things. But can we do them in a manner that doesn’t fight generalizations fueled by hate and ignorance with generalizations fueled by hate and ignorance? The answer is yes. We can. In order to do so, however, we need to rely on many leaders, not simply the President-elect.
Be role models. Speak your piece, but listen to others. Infiltrate our classrooms with creativity to express ideas, opinions and respect. Do as you say, say as you do. Give opportunities to write, draw and debate. Value the youth; don’t treat them as if they do not understand, as we have seen where this has gotten us. Value providing education; don’t treat it as a mundane checklist that doesn’t lead to greater good, as we have also seen where this has gotten us.
My students are angry. They are opinionated, sad, confused and hateful. To tell them they are too young, too naive and too far behind to be influential is perpetuating the systemic issues with creating change in our nation as it is. To silence them is ignorant. To invite voices that quiet down for other voices is progressive. To listen is to teach.
Most importantly, to value our youth is to value our future. I don’t always do the right thing, say the right thing or recognize the right thing. In light of watching the United States of America elect a President whom I currently do not respect, value or want, however, I choose to listen to the youth and allow them to express what they do or do not respect, value or want. Eventually, maybe this will remind everyone how important this expression is, and things like voting won’t seem irrelevant, but rather empowering. Things like disagreements will present progress, not regression. Things like politics will produce character development, not defamation.
And maybe, just maybe, we won’t fight what we perceive as imperfection with complete opposition.
Because isn’t that what’s happening now?