ARTICLE

Speak Up for Civility

This year, students are absorbing a lot of negative and inflammatory messages related to the election—often from the adults in their own school communities. We’ve got something that can help.

PD Cafe illustration child overwhelmed by 2016 Election
Illustration by Christian Northeast

This presidential election year, teachers are asking an important question: How do I teach about the election, keep marginalized kids safe and promote respectful behavior? As one educator in Tennessee recently told us, “Not only have we heard negative dialogue between teachers, but we have also heard parents arguing about politics. As a whole, however, our students are just scared and they comment on how people running for president shouldn't be allowed to say mean things about one another.”

Each school, of course, is different. But the solution for all schools is the same: The grown-ups need to come together and agree to some norms when they talk politics. We’re urging every school community to make this a key goal.

To point the way, we’ve asked our educator advisors to come up with a contract for the adults in the school community. The contract, Speak Up for Civility, provides a way for families, educators and other staff to commit to some simple behaviors that will make them all models of good citizenship and respectful dialogue. When adults sign the contract, it will help ensure that young people see democracy in action. It can be used as is or modified to suit your school’s needs.

Meanwhile, we’ve assembled a set of resources to help educators teach students how to recognize and counter bias, get along, explore controversial topics respectfully, participate in civic life and find reliable and accurate election-related information.

The Fall issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine also features some informative and actionable election-related articles:

  • Polarized Classrooms,” by renowned scholar Paula McAvoy, offers context and advice on teaching about ideology and polarization.
  • Teach 2016,” written collaboratively by our educator advisors, answers the top five toughest questions teachers have about the election.
  • An in-depth Q&A with Rock the Vote shows how schools can fire up future voters.
  • If It Can Happen Here…” tells how one school district turned this election’s inflammatory tone into a celebration of unity and diversity.
  • TT Director Maureen Costello reflects on the election and offers advice to social studies teachers.
  • PD Café highlights practical suggestions to help you navigate—and teach about—this year’s presidential campaigns.

Finally, we know our website has so many election-related resources that it can be overwhelming. For a quick overview of the resources we have available, watch this seven-minute, on-demand webinar.

Remember that students are watching—and listening. Together, we can show them and each other how civil, respectful and engaging democracy works.