I woke to an imposing kind of rain this morning -- noisy, insistent and somewhat manic. Rain in the dark, rain pounding on the window demanding to be heard. In the silence of my bedroom, the light of my iPhone glowing in the dark, I read the news. 11/9. We have a new president. President Trump.
I'm an educator; I teach third grade in an American school outside of America. One of my first thoughts, after the astonishment, after the wide-eyed disbelief, was "How can we discuss this news in our class in a way that is helpful?" Our classroom discussions of the candidates prior to election day had been balanced, fair, and, above all, kind, so it was difficult to predict exactly how the children might react to news of their new president-elect. But I had a strong sense that many students would be feeling surprised and upset.
The children usually arrive in the classroom within a flurry of backpacks, conversation and laughter. Today there was an eerie silence in the room as I took the attendance. I watched as the children came to the rug quickly, with a quiet sense of urgency. Flashbacks just then of my classroom after 9/11. The need for children to know they are safe in the world, to know that we understand their confusion.
I had to wipe a few tears away from my eyes right before the children came in the classroom. My intention was to facilitate a conversation between us where we listened to each other and grew ideas. I knew a few things, instinctively, despite my shock. I knew that I needed to lead us in a conversation which was about acknowledgment but which could be ultimately about hope. We all were in need of that kind of dialogue this morning.
I invited the children to raise their hand if they wanted to make a comment or ask a question about the election results. They could share any thoughts they had, as long as they did so in a kind way and didn't use any insulting language. Always, the message of kindness, even when our President-elect hadn't modeled that kind of behavior, always we can be kind to each other. The children had a lot to say this morning.
"I'm not happy that Trump won. He hasn't done nice things. He says he's going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out. He's said things about them that aren't good things."
"My brother (he's in first grade) woke up this morning and shouted, "Oh no! Donald Trump is going to make World War 3 happen! He's a bad guy."
"If children could vote, things would be better. We have thoughts too, and we're the future, so we should have a say."
"Even Trump supporters might be surprised that he won. The things he said weren't kind."
"Donald Trump is a bad man. He's unkind to everyone. It's unfair that he won. I don't know why people are voting for him when he says mean things about women. I'm angry."
"Maybe the President doesn't have all the power. Then, it's not the end of the world that he won."
"I'm mad that Trump got elected. He isn't always very nice to people."
"I'm not that happy. I'd rather someone else was the President than him."
"Donald Trump is mean to different religions. He doesn't like Muslims."
"My mom was shaking this morning and shouting angry things at the TV."
"If you've already voted, can you now take it back and change your mind?"
During the conversation that followed, the children grew their thinking and ideas around the topic of the election. My assistant teacher and I reassured the children that there are many people in the world working to keep us safe and well, that there are many systems in place to help us, and above all, whatever we do, that we must be kind. We talked about the balance of power in government and how even the President has rules that he or she will need to follow or risk consequences.
Somewhere in the midst of discussing the fears and the reality, the concerns and the actualities, we came to something new. Collectively, we came to an understanding that we are all in this together, that we can embrace the unknown as many leaders and citizens before us have done - with courage, respect for others, and inclusivity. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that love is the only answer to hate. This is a notion that our children know instinctively. Our future voters and leaders, with their backpacks, strong moral codes and earnest intentions for the world - I salute them all.