Politics with Kids

Special Guest Post by Ginelle Wolfe ’16

I knew work would be tough the day after the election because I work with kids at an elementary school. Each teacher I talked to said they were not going to discuss the election, as the assumption is that most students would not even understand what happened. While I understand that approach, my situation is a little bit different. I teach English Language Development classes, so the majority of my students are not from the United States and none of their first languages are English; thus, their understanding of this election was the same as the average West Los Angeles Upper-Middle class student. I know teachers aren’t supposed to “talk politics” with their students, but I was willing to get in trouble for this one. Opening up a dialogue was not just a good option; it felt necessary to me. After our course, I felt confident that I could lead effective discussions.

The kindergarteners and first graders did not discuss the election, and the second graders mentioned it but didn’t seem to be bothered. The 3rd-5th graders were a completely different story. With the exception of one student who was happy about the election results, the kids were distraught. I decided to have each person go around and say one word about how they are feeling. (We did this on our first day of our Research Methods course and it stuck with me! – I could express my feelings and understand that my peers felt the same way without being put on the spot to talk at length). The students went around one by one… “Frustrated”… “Angry”…”Upset”… the last student said “Scared, and can I say why?” I nodded and continued, “I’m scared because I know Trump hates me and my family because were not from this country. We’re from Turkey and he hates Turkish people”. I wanted to break down and cry in that moment, but I remembered our class discussions about White fragility. I needed to be there for the students and continue the conversation: This was about them, NOT me.

Other students joined in the discussion and I and assured them that I love and respect each one of them and everyone who Trump has said terrible things about. I showed my binder (which is covered in flags of different countries) to the students and told them to point to their flag because each one matters to me. After seeing their excitement from finding their countries on my binder, I asked each one to draw their flag on a piece of paper. As I saw smiles start to emerge on their faces, I promised them that I would fight for them and their rights, and that I would always be here if any of them wanted to talk more about their feelings, as they were all important. Some students thanked me, and some just leaned over on me or hugged me. I learned from the Contemporary Racism class that I had to meet people in a conversation where they were (this especially helped when having discussions with children- I didn’t want to say too much so I let them do most of the talking), let them feel their voices being heard, and assured them that their feelings are valid, especially because people often do not take children’s feelings seriously.

While I am still in shock by the results, today’s experience assured me that I could still make change, even if it is small. I must use the privilege I have to keep fighting, I am feeling so motivated, now more than ever, to pursue a career in which I can continue to fight for human rights.

9 thoughts on “Politics with Kids”

  1. I really appreciate your experience of the life. we all know that in this world the force for the horizon are the youth, therefore children have the right to know all about the world,even about the politics, race, and other such as culture.they have to know that learn about other culture is not the bad things, because America is a settlement country. may GOD give you a great life expectancy to continue.

  2. Ginelle,

    This is a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing it with us. I am glad to see that you were able to use your privilege to brighten the days and spirits of so many kids whose voices are often not taken as seriously. It was brave of you to confront speaking of the election results knowing you could get into trouble. It was a great tactic to have them say only one word to relieve any pressure from being on the spotlight. It’s very empowering to see that you are using the election to explore your dreams.

  3. Thank you for sharing Ginelle!! I loved reading your post! You made your student’s voices to be heard and you gave them a space where they could express themselves. I think that you tackled the situation eloquently and allowed your students, who do not necessarily have a voice, actually speak up about their feelings on the election. I remember when I was their age, I had no idea what was happening in the world, but due to social media and advanced technology, children are sometimes more informed than adults are.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Ginelle! I love that you created a community where kids could feel validated no matter what they were feeling. We talked in class today about how kids were affected by the election and some of the responses were so heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing this experience, hope you are well!

  5. Ginelle, this is amazing! You created a community for your students and made it possible for them to feel validated in their very real feelings — something that people don’t do for kids enough, even in less extreme circumstances. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  6. Ginelle, first of all congrats to you for actually opening up a dialogue with the kids instead of brushing it under the rug like the rest of the teachers. It’s easy to ignore matters of race when you’re White (and needless to say this election has definitely been concerning in terms of race relations), but you didn’t. That takes a lot of courage, and you did the right thing in asking them all how they felt about it. After this election I think we’ve all needed some time and a place to ruminate on these results, and I’m sure the kids appreciate you letting them share their thoughts and feelings. What you did is also a wonderful example of meeting people where they’re at. As much as some of us would like to I’m sure, it’s a little bit more complicated trying to explain the inner workings of contemporary racism to children, but just by showing these children that you value each and every one of them you are teaching them how to approach racial matters.

  7. I completely empathize with you and your experience. What that anchor said on CNN the night of the election still rings true “…people are afraid of breakfast with their kids.” It’s a very difficult and confusing conversation to have, and I think you did a great job comforting the students. It’s disappointing to hear how so many teachers did not want to have the discussion at all, though. We’ve talked in class about how not acknowledging issues like these for students of color, or in this case any student, is extremely distressing for them! How can they be expected to learn when they are truly frightened? I had to have a similar conversations with students I work with, and my heart broke when I had a student with learning disabilities say to me “Trump shouldn’t be president, because he makes fun of people with disabilities…and that’s not nice.” I’m scared about how students of Latinx descent, Muslim faith, minority identities, LGBT parents or identification, disabilities, etc. will grow up to perceive themselves when the man that represents their country has explicitly threatened their well-being.

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