Teaching after Election Day
By Nancy McTygue, on behalf of the CHSSP Family
Teachers have a big job this week, following the election of Donald Trump. Across our state, and indeed, across the country, thousands of Americans have voiced their opposition to the outcome of the election. Many of our fellow citizens are concerned about what the new administration will mean for Americans' individual liberties, such as freedom of the press and religion, the status of undocumented immigrants, the economy, our standing around the globe, and our national defense. Teachers are reporting that their students and their colleagues are afraid – for themselves, their families, and their communities. Teachers and their students are asking: Will the President-Elect’s campaign proclamations become reality once he comes into office? Are our constitutional protections strong enough to protect the individual liberties enshrined in our Bill of Rights? How can our country come together after such a divisive campaign? Helping students cope with these questions and fears is, in a nutshell, difficult and tremendously important.
Students need to know that their classrooms are a safe and inclusive place for them to ask difficult questions, to wonder aloud about the impact of national events, and to develop the skills necessary to survive and prosper in our democratic society.
Moments like this remind us of the vital importance of our discipline and the work of the history teacher. The tools of our discipline, especially perspective and context, can help because they force us to see this election as part of a larger and longer collective history. The 2016 election was and is noteworthy, but so were other moments in our history. The history of our country is replete with noteworthy moments and even existential threats to our democracy. The United States has survived both a Civil War and multiple foreign wars. We’ve endured violent attacks from foreign and domestic terrorists, racial persecution, economic crises, public and private corruption, presidential impeachment, and the even the caning of a US Senator on Capitol Hill. As history teachers, we’ve helped our students make sense of these events – how they are situated in the larger context of American history and how, despite these challenges, our democracy has survived, and many times, improved in response through the hard work, bravery, and sacrifice of regular citizens seeking a more perfect union.
So as you listen to your students and your colleagues this week, we encourage you to employ these tools to remind them of the challenges we’ve faced in the past and those we’ll likely face in the future. Remind them that everyday Americans have both the capacity and responsibility to improve our society – to treat every human with respect, to protect individual liberties, and to work together for the common good. And as you continue with this vital and important work, know that we both support and appreciate your efforts.