Teaching Election 2016 the Morning After and for the Next Four Years

I apologize for the length of this post; it is really two posts combined into one. Part 1 is Alan's Analysis of Election 2016. I open with my views as a historian, teacher, parent, grandparent, and citizen about what happened last week and my concerns about the future of the United States and the world. In Part 2 teachers partnered with the Hofstra University teacher education program discuss how they are addressing the election results in their classrooms.

Part 1. Alan's Analysis of Election 2016

1. I was surprised but not shocked by the Presidential election results last week. Donald Trump, the Republican Party candidate, was elected President of the United States with a majority of the electoral vote, although almost two million more people actually voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The "split" suggests that Trump's election was a "correction" rather than a "mandate," although Trump and his supporters may not see it that way. Trump presented himself as the candidate of change who would "Make America Great Again." Clinton ran to continue a legacy that included economic stagnation for many Americans. More people voted for Clinton, but Trump won anyway.

2. The electoral vote is a vestige of slavery days. It was originally designed to separate the people from power and to "balance" the electoral power of Northern and Southern states in the new nation. According to the Constitution, eligibility to vote was decided separately by each state. The electoral vote system, which assigned a set number of votes to each state based on population with a minimum of three, meant no state could "stuff the ballot" by allowing a greater number of people, including women, Blacks, the poor, or non-citizens, to vote. The electoral vote system is an antiquated relic of an unjust past, but it is not going to change. That would require a Constitutional Amendment approved by three-fourths of the states, but the less populated states, and the Republican Party, that benefit from this system are not going to support a revision.

3. The United States is sharply divided geographically, racially, ethnically, economically, and by education. The Red and Blue electoral maps show the Northeast and the west coast going heavily for Hillary and most of the rest of the country voting Republican. Most of the states with big cities went Democrat. States dominated by rural voters went Republican. White non-Hispanic voters chose Trump over Clinton by 21%. Clinton held an 80% advantage among Black voters and took 65% of the Latino vote. Women supported Clinton by a significant, but not overwhelming margin (54% to 42%). Two-thirds (67%) of non-college educated Whites, especially White men, voted for Donald Trump. These divisions are not going to be easy bridge. It may never happen.

4. The problems and divisions facing the United States and highlighted in the Trump campaign, the issues that got him elected President, are genuine. But Donald Trump's very sketchy solutions do not address the magnitude of these problems in any realistic way. Coal is never going to be a major source of fuel in the United States again, unless Americans somehow decide to give up breathing. Meanwhile, Trump's proposal to ignore environmental concerns and expand coal production and use would undermine international efforts to slow climate change in dangerous ways.

A national survey reported that over seventy percent of Trump supporters thought American culture and its way of life had changed for the worse since the 1950s. One reason for this longing for the past is that it was an era of dynamic economic growth in the United States which meant good, higher paying jobs, at least for White men. But the economic conditions at that time were historically unique and will never return. The industrial capacity of Europe and Asia were destroyed by World War II. Not only did the United States have no economic competitors, but it had new markets for its goods as it rebuilt these regions of the world. Today the world suffers from a glut of manufactured goods, much of it produced cheaply in other parts of the world. A large number of new factories will not open in this country no matter what Donald Trump promises, and in the factories that do open, the assembly line will be "manned" robots and computers, not people.

Longing for the 1950s also means longing for an era when women were subservient to men, Blacks were legally segregated from the rest of society, a new wave of post-1965 immigrants had not yet arrived in the country, and gays and lesbians were criminalized. Trump was able to mobilize his voters by raising legitimate economic hopes, but also by playing to bigotry.

5. Donald Trump is impulsive and irresponsible, but not ideological on most issues. The goal of "opposition" should be to prevent permanent damage to the environment, Constitutional Rights, especially for minorities and women, the economy, and global alliances. This will not be an easy task, especially because many of Trump's supporters are blind right-wing ideologues and they control Congress and will soon control the Supreme Court. While within the Republican Party there are irrational and dangerous groups like the "alt-right" which embraces racist and anti-democratic ideas, they do not define the entire party or everyone who voted for Trump. Hopefully it will be possible to enlist Republicans willing to put country before party, people like the Bushes, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice, to resist Trump's more outrageous policy initiatives, although I am not sure.

6. The Democratic Party must either change or become irrelevant. Republicans now control the Presidency, the Congress, and a large majority of state governments. The underlying message of the Democratic Party for the past forty years fails to inspire many voters and they need to change it. Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton each argued in some way that they were smarter, more experienced, and better qualified to be President than their opponent and that if elected they would govern better. In general, this was a losing message. Barack Obama won the presidency because his message was hope for the future. He was actually the less experienced of the candidates. The Democrats need to nominate candidates more like Barack than like Hillary. Part of the change is having a more left-progressive program à la Bernie Sanders and convincing people you will stand by it.

7. I am a big supporter of protest marches, I went to the one in Manhattan on Saturday. But protest marches are not a substitute for building a political movement. For the last fifty years I have swung back and forth between believing that leadership for political and economic change would only come from a new Third Party and the hope that somehow the left could capture the Democratic Party and transform it into a force for social change in the United States. At this point the political right, the Tea Party, and their network of allies, has demonstrated that you can take over and reshape a major political party. It appears to be the best way to win from the grass roots up, by taking local, municipal, and state offices and building a political movement within the existing electoral structure. I have decided to shift my party affiliation back from the Green Party to the Democratic Party. If no one else steps forward, I will consider running in the 2022 Democratic Party primary as a left-progressive against Chuck "Senator Wall Street" Schumer.

Part 2. Teachers Discuss How They Address the 2016 Election Results

Teachers need to be clear about what they think and their goals for a lesson as they begin to plan. What you teach, and how you teach is going to be different depending on the age of your students. It also needs to reflect your understanding of who you students are. For younger children, discussions should center on fairness, how we treat each other, and that our classrooms and our country are governed by rules and laws, rules and laws that leaders must also follow. I want older students to examine the America political and economic system more critically, to define the kind of country they want to live in, to think of themselves as active participants in a diverse and democratic community, and also to experience civil discourse with respectful disagreement and views supported by evidence. A possible and definitely legitimate decision by students would be to become political activists.

Mike from Queens, NY wants teachers to help students "learn to deal with increasing intolerance and to resist." He expects "The Democrats will now move to the right and accommodate Trump and Republican rule." To help his students understand what is happening in the United States, Mike developed a series of research assignments for before and after the election for his high school students.

1) Students created informational pamphlets about the history of voting rights in the U.S. and current efforts to restrict voting rights and reported suppression of voting in some districts on Election Day.
2) Students examined the duties and responsibilities of the president and the role of money in elections
3) Students learned about the Electoral College, including examination of past electoral results. Students took part in the Great Electoral Vote Extra Credit Contest to pick winner and closest to the # of electoral votes
4) Students undertook a presidential debate project during which they wrote and presented candidate statements on a variety of topics
5) Students were given the opportunity to write and discuss their personal reactions to the election results.
6) Students conducted a demographic analysis of the results.

Rob, who teaches at a high school in Manhattan, wrote
: "Despite personally being slightly terrified of what is going to happen over the next few years, keeping students calm by keeping yourself being calm is so important. The students in my school are all Dominican, Muslim, and Black so I tried to reassure them that everything is going to be okay. One of my Muslim students told me that I relieved some of her fears because she's nervous that Trump's election is going to embolden bigoted supporters. It was a pretty humbling moment as a young teacher.

Rich, a Long Island, NY middle school teacher created this activity for his students, who are almost all Black and Latino.

A. Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America. Today we will examine (1) how Trump won; (2) discuss your feelings, concerns and reactions; and (3) examine what role we must play in our democracy.

For our first activity examine the election map.
1. List five states where Donald Trump was the winning candidate?
2. In your opinion, what are some reasons people may have voted for him?

B. Van Jones, An African-American political pundit on CNN, gave a heartfelt reaction to Trumps victory. Mr. Jones talked about concerns of parents and the role race played in the election. Watch the video.
1. Do you agree with Van Jones?
2. Van Jones also said, it was Mr. Trump responsibility to unite the country. What would he have to do to accomplish this?

C. In Donald Trump's speech he congratulated Hillary Clinton and said he would be the president to all people. He said, "Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of division -- have to get together," he said. "To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people."
1. What is your response? Do you think he can do this?
2. What power or responsibility do you have in a democracy if you have different beliefs or values than your President or Government?

Mike from Brooklyn wrote: With all of my classes we opened by looking at the 2012 electoral map and comparing it to that of the 2016 electoral map, we discussed what the changes were and what may have led to these changes. We then watched excerpts of Trump's acceptance speech, and read a piece from the New York Times. To close the lesson we had a final discussion of their feelings about the election, and had a free write of their emotions.

My students are scared. They do not know what the future holds for them in the United States and if there is a place for them in the United States. The most powerful statement by one of my students was by an 11th grader of Mexican heritage. During class she shared, "I am really scared, because my mom is my only family and she is undocumented. If my mom would be deported, I would be alone in this country."

Derek wrote from Brooklyn, NY: I created a small package of lessons designed to accomplish two goals: instruct students on concepts necessary to assess the election on their own terms while also providing a forum for students to express their opinions in a comfortable and supportive environment.

The first lesson was centered on the campaign issues that dominated headlines for the last several months. For their "Do Now" activity, students were encouraged to create a list of these issues while also providing an explanation for why at least one of the topics they listed had become politically charged. Within minutes of sharing their responses, every one of my five global classes independently came to the realization that the campaign "issues" at the forefront of the election were closer to personal flaws among the candidates than true matters of importance.

After coming to this understanding, which many subsequently blamed on mainstream media outlets, the students were divided into groups and provided with documents and quotes which illustrated each candidate's position on topics ranging from immigration to tax policy. After completing their research, student teams educated one another on their respective candidate's position while a designated "neutral voter" oversaw the discussion and provided context to each issue. The lesson concluded with student teams sharing their newly developed opinions on each candidate based on information garnered from the activity; many students humbly admitted a change of perspective now that they had explored the actual policy statements made by the candidates.

Originally, I had planned my first post-election lesson to address the inevitable student confusion that results from our complex and controversial Electoral College system. This lesson, based on the faulty assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election, became obsolete the moment that Donald Trump shocked political pollsters and emerged as the victor. This turn of events completely up-ended my plans. How can students be expected to explore the somewhat mundane world of electoral votes when many of them had stayed awake all night and experienced a political upset with impacts that can only be guessed at?

Part of growing as a social studies educator is realizing that adaptability and a means of gauging the mood of your classes is just as critical as lesson preparation. It became clear that what my students required was a "safe-space" to discuss their post-election thoughts and feelings. I started my classes with an understanding that student emotion would be at a fever pitch that could quickly result in chaos; consequently, students' first task was to quietly and individually reflect on their feelings in a short written response which would become the basis of a later discussion.

To create an atmosphere capable of supporting appropriate and stable student conversation at such a sensitive and tense time, several steps had to be taken. Firstly, student desks were arranged into a large circle conducive to an extended dialogue. Second, students were reminded of discussion norms that had been developed throughout the term. Students were encouraged to provide responses supported by evidence and speak passionately, but also respect the sensitivity of the moment and be mindful of the feelings of other students.

What became clear from these discussions was that high school students are capable of reasoned and respectful discourse when given the opportunity. Throughout the course of the day, more than eighty students across five classes shared their emotions, fears, and insights. Some students questioned whether Trump was fit to be president despite his lack of political experience and "shameful" comments about women and minorities, while others praised his tax plan and willingness to "speak from the heart."

Some mourned Clinton's defeat and reflected on what they saw as a missed opportunity to improve the status of women in the United States, while others criticized her connection to Wall Street and inability to connect with voters. Perhaps the most reflective comments came from students whose background shaped their perspective on the election. One student explained that his support for Trump and his tough stance on immigration developed from watching his father, a Canadian immigrant, struggle to legally gain citizenship for several years as others "crossed the border with no problems". Another student replied by saying that her opposition to Trump and support of DACA was out of concern for her cousins who lack documentation, but are intent on attending college.

These student-led conversations, brief though they were, provided a welcomed respite from the poor state of political and civic dialogue put forth in the build-up, culmination, and aftermath of the election. It is reasoned discussions like these which might help those of us suffering from disillusionment with the United States political system see some light at the end of the tunnel.

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