The Election Keeps Testing Educators

Many educators are hesitant to teach about national politics and the 2016 election.

It’s mid-April. Schools across the country have been busy with testing. Educators have been put to the test, too—continuously this school year. “What’s the test?” you might ask. It’s being a classroom or school leader in the wake of a divisive election that spurred an uptick in bullying and harassment in schools, and contributed to heightened anxieties and concerns for several groups of students, including immigrants and Muslims.

Teaching Tolerance has been looking at how the 2016 presidential campaign and election have affected school climate on a national scale. What we’re seeing is worrisome for the well-being of children, to say the least. 

Here are some of our findings:

In a March/April 2016 survey of 2,000 K­‑12 educators, 43 percent reported being hesitant to teach about the election. More than half reported an increase in uncivil political discourse at their schools. And more than one-third observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.

In an immediate post-election survey of 10,000 K­‑12 educators, 46 percent reported being hesitant to discuss the election and post-election season with students. Eight in 10 noted heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students. Four in 10 have heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and others based on gender or sexual orientation.

Last week, Education Week shared the results of a February 2017 survey of over 830 educators, gauging “their experiences teaching about controversial topics in a time of division.” Forty-two percent of respondents noted difficulty discussing national politics with students. Sixty-six percent reported seeing a surge in uncivil political discourse at their schools since the presidential campaign season kicked off. And, also related to school climate, 30 percent of educators observed more bullying related to immigration, language, race or ethnicity.

What’s clear is this: For close to a year now, survey findings have shown that a large percentage of K-12 educators—ranging from 40 to 46 percent—are hesitant to teach or discuss a cornerstone of our civic society: national politics and elections. We’re also seeing findings that indicate school climates have taken a hit, with many schools reporting an uptick in bullying and harassment.

We know that students need specific supports this year, as well as ongoing opportunities to engage in civic education. We also know that the stakes are high and that educators are being routinely put to the test. Despite these obstacles, there are opportunities for educators and school communities to rise to the occasion. 

Here are some Teaching Tolerance resources that can help, developed in response to this survey data:

Voting and Elections: Resources for a Civil Classroom

Supporting Students From Immigrant Families

School Climate Resources

These resources are all free and just a click away. We will continue to respond to feedback we hear from educators and to produce the types of resources you need to overcome the obstacles of teaching in 2017—and beyond.