“I'm gonna get sent over the wall.”
“I hate America.”
“We're all doomed.”
While the sentiments I've overheard following the presidential election are, admittedly, ones I've thought, said and written about, I am particularly silenced as the aftermath hits me.
These statements, which certainly could belong to a number of Americans, are straight from the mouths of kids.
Our youth, our high school students, our next generation of leaders are learning and forming opinions based on what we, the adults and role models present.
Whether it's jokes about the physical appearance of our political candidates or fear-induced anxiety attacks about a loss of rights, the locker room talk that really matters is that which is laced with the next group of parents, teachers, business owners and, most importantly, voters.
As an educator in the public sector, I am not to share my political, religious or otherwise controversial beliefs. While I have a strong stance nonetheless, I have chosen to remain quiet as I observe the teens around me.
Here's what I know:
My students are angry. My students are opinionated. My students are hateful, confused and crass about the current political debacle and our newest president-elect.
My students are sometimes even mean to one another; they disagree in a fashion that is black and white, without wiggle room or constructive feedback.
But what else do they know? As a woman who is scared for my own loss of rights, the loss of rights of my diverse friends and family and the perpetual privilege of white males, I certainly did not cast my vote for Donald Trump.
I, too, have a fair amount of confusion, anger and loss boiling inside of me. So I understand. Whether they are red, blue, mixed or simply unspoken, I hurt for my students, but I fear for them as well.
So as student protests break out across the nation, I choose now, in the face of what many of us thought was an unreachable outcome, to react positively.
Our students are coming together based on a united belief, and they are expressing themselves in a peaceful, educated manner. Do you know what's happening in the hallways of schools as an alternative? Bullying. Fights. Hate. Bottled up fear, emotion and injustice.
Students have been watching so many Americans come “together” as segmented groups who cast hateful, opinionated, confused, crass ideations about voters and leaders alike. Is that what we want to teach our next generation? What do we want them to fight with? Intelligence or fury? Which would you rather our president of the United States operate under?
They want to protest? Peacefully? Based on a community of voices and beliefs? Yes. This is what I want my students to feel comfortable doing. I choose to stand behind them as they express, empower and engage themselves.
I choose to stand behind them as they express, empower and engage themselves.
I choose now to listen. I choose to listen to the younger generation, the population who feels as if they do not have a voice, who feel they are an audience awaiting inevitable change without any involvement.
I choose to create a classroom and an environment that does not react fiercely and deftly to disagreement, but who asks questions, speaks up and presents vulnerability. I choose to not rely on one leader, but on many.
As an educator, it isn't simply about teaching the intelligent and the motivated, but also motivating and intellectualizing those who, perhaps, are neglected most. It isn't just those who are willing, more apt or more privileged to be influential who can be influential.
My students can be too. And they should be. If that means protesting, I'm all for it.
I am a single, white, educated woman. I hold bias. I hold privilege. I hold intellect, fear, naivety and poise in one vessel.
I also hold the attention of dozens of young eyes and minds each and every day. It is not my job to turn my students into me. It is not my job to educate them on my opinions and beliefs. It is, however, my responsibility as a role model to cast an environment that allows for disagreements, outspoken confusion and fear.
Students are watching us -- inside the classroom and outside of it. I choose to allow a fight, but one that doesn't counter generalizations fueled by hate and ignorance with generalizations fueled by hate and ignorance. In order to do so, we need to rely on many leaders, not simply the president-elect.
Be role models. Speak your piece, but listen to others. Infiltrate our classrooms with creativity to express ideas, opinions and respect. Do as you say, say as you do.
Don't treat kids as if they do not understand.
Give opportunities to write, draw and debate. Value the youth; don't treat them as if they do not understand, as we have seen where this has gotten us. Value providing education; don't treat it as a mundane checklist that doesn't lead to greater good, as we have also seen where this has gotten us.
My students are angry. They are opinionated, sad, confused and hateful. To tell them they are too young, too naive and too far behind to be influential is perpetuating the systemic issues with creating change in our nation as it is. To silence them is ignorant. To invite voices that quiet down for other voices is progressive. To listen is to teach.
To listen is to teach.
Most importantly, to value our youth is to value our future. I don't always do the right thing, say the right thing or recognize the right thing.
In light of watching the United States of America elect a president whom I currently do not respect, value or want, however, I choose to listen to the youth and allow them to express what they do or do not respect, value or want.
Eventually, maybe this will remind everyone how important this expression is, and things like voting won't seem irrelevant, but rather, empowering.
Things like disagreements will present progress, not regression. Things like politics will produce character development, not defamation. If that means protesting, by all means, let them protest.