Trump’s fanning of the flames of division has reached our education system.
Across America’s public high schools, the intolerance and bullying modeled by President Trump and the 2016 election has led to an outbreak of incivility, victimization and heightened stresses for a spectrum of minorities, according to a national report from the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.
Teachers have seen innumerable examples of white students preying on others—feeling empowered by Trump’s rhetoric and polticies. Students on the receiving end have shouldered pressures not just from insensitive peers, but exhibited stressful symptoms tied to threats of deportation and victimization due to their race, religion and gender identity. In many schools, teachers are overwhelmed and are avoiding topics that could provoke attacks in the classroom and predatory behavior in the hallways. In other schools, administrators have had to take extra steps to publicly draw lines on discrimination, racial profiling and harassment of LGBTQ students.
These dismal trends were described in great detail, with many testimonials from teachers, in the UCLA report, Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools by John Rogers and his research team. The scholars at UCLA interviewed more than 1,500 teachers in 333 public high schools nationwide starting last spring, followed up by more discussions over the summer.
“Throughout his campaign and in his presidency to date, Donald Trump has addressed a number of ‘hot-button’ topics that call into question the status or rights of many different groups in American society,” their report’s summary said. “The charged political rhetoric surrounding these and other issues often has been polarizing and contentious. Many would agree that, since Donald Trump has moved into the White House, national political discourse has become a more potent force in shaping the consciousness and everyday experiences of Americans. It is important to ask if this new political environment has impacted high school students.”
The report begins with statistics quantifying the increases in stresses in students as seen by teachers, compared to before the 2016 election. These figures are alarming, as they show how public schools, which, for decades, have been a great equalizing force in the country, have become venues for bigotry and victimization.
For example, the report says stresses facing students are skyrocketing, “particularly in schools enrolling few white students.” The researchers note:
• 51.4% of teachers in our sample reported more students experiencing “high levels of stress and anxiety” than in previous years. Only 6.6% of teachers reported fewer students experiencing high stress than previous years. A Pennsylvania teacher reported: “Many students were very stressed and worried after the election. They vocalized their worries over family members’ immigration status and healthcare, as well as LGBT rights.”
• 79% of teachers reported that their students have expressed concerns for their well-being or the well-being of their families associated with recent public policy discourse on one or more hot-button issues, including immigration, travel limitations on predominantly Muslim countries, restrictions on LGBTQ rights, changes to health care, or threats to the environment.
• 58% of teachers reported that some of their students had expressed concerns in relationship to proposals for deporting undocumented immigrants. A Nebraska coach recounted that some of his student-athletes have begun to live their lives in “survival mode” because “at any time they could be possibly picked up by the police and deported to a country that they didn’t even grow up in.” A Utah teacher overheard her students grappling with what would happen should their undocumented parents face deportation. “Would I stay, because I was born here,” one student asked. “But how would I survive if my dad got taken back to Mexico?”