The 2020 election coupled with widespread social injustice has provoked feelings of division and tense atmospheres unlike anything most of us have experienced in decades.
However, election years in general lead to heated discussions and tension. No matter your political persuasion, it is of the utmost importance that at work- especially educators and school staff, to maintain peace and express calm. Children are more perceptive than we can believe. Faculty and educators must ensure that there is peace at school during election week and always. For many children, school is a safe haven from dysfunctional and abusive homes. Teachers and administrators are role models for all children -- and especially for those children whom are from homes where role models are not necessarily available.
Agreeing to civil discussions and ensuring that school stays peaceful does not exclude discussion about the election or American politics altogether. How can the balance between discussion and hateful speech be maintained in school?
Avoid social media drama
On personal social media accounts, all educators and staff must stay away from any type of hate speech -- on either side. It is important to understand the difference between hate speech and a passionate debate. Debates can be respectful and still be passionate at the same time. However, on social media, where typed word has a tendency to be misunderstood, there often comes a point where passionate debate is not perceived as intended. Debate becomes drama. When that point arrives, it’s time to bow out, both for your own sanity as well as your professional life. It is useless to waste energy on trolls who will not be moved, and there are professional life consequences for hate speech.
Reinforce zero tolerance policy
Unfortunately, hate speech -- either in-person or online -- is a fact of the current political climate. We know that hate exists but the possibility that someone unexpected, a respected educator, counselor, or administrator, could engage in hate speech is not something that parents, students, or the community should have to accept. A zero tolerance policy on hate speech must be enforced for faculty and students too. Children without doubt, have the potential to parrot hate speech overheard at home. Hate speech, in both situations, is a zero-tolerance issue. Bullying(even when only verbal) should be met with consequences for both children and adults. There is no room for any type of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or political preference. Sometimes, bullying and hate speech come in covert forms. It is easy to punish those who engage when the engagement is overt; it is significantly more difficult to find the root of clandestine hate speech. Administrators need to make it their business to enforce zero tolerance policies equally, to punish overt bullying, and to keep ears to the ground for sneakier forms of bullying and hate speech.
Establish a safe place
Again, a school should not be the place to ban political discussion entirely. Free speech is still alive and students should be able to safely express themselves and their concerns. Especially with older children who are more exposed to news media and have a greater understanding of policies and history, a point should be made to address their concerns in a safe environment. Counselors, teachers, and administrators can do students a great service by listening to their fears surrounding the ramifications of potential victory by either possible candidate. Additionally, elections serve as a learning opportunity for younger children who are not yet familiar with the democratic process.
Be the change
There is nothing wrong or hateful when a school administration takes a stand against offensive rhetoric or hate speech that comes from faculty, students, or directly out of the mouth of a political candidate. Schools should not stay silent in the arenas of politics or current events when politics and current events cause students to feel unsafe. Staff can be coached to be sensitive to these events, to be able to properly support students when it comes to a candidate threatening their rights and the rights of their families. Yes sensitivity training is absolutely necessary within schools and any professional organization or place of business. We must enforce zero tolerance policies, and ensure that all students are truly treated equally when it comes to basic rules and rights within the scope of school. Be the school that is an example to other institutions.
With so many personalities at play, school is a metaphorical breeding ground for different ideas and solutions. Strong leadership and dedication to equality and justice can be the answer to keeping the peace, especially during tumultuous election and post election weeks.