America's Students Have to Be the Hope We Can Believe In

I went through all of high school and most of college with President Barack Obama. I am part of a micro-generation of Americans whose notions of politics and what it means to be American were especially molded by President Obama. I grew up with a hopeful president. But now, students have to grow up with a hateful president. I fear for how President-elect Trump will affect the notions of America’s students who will grow up in a political culture that stands in contrast to the one I grew up in.

Wrong Message, Wrong Time

I was in middle school when I watched the inauguration of the first African-American president. I noticed my history teacher wiping away her tears. These early messages and images shaped me. I eventually grew to love politics. I wore out my DVDs of “The West Wing.” I read everything I could get my hands on. I eventually got involved in Seattle politics and discovered my passion for speech writing. Today, our children receive a different message. They see middle school students in Michigan chanting “ build that wall” during their lunch period. They see swastikas drawn on the walls of bathrooms at a middle school in Bethesda, Maryland. They experience the “ Trump Effect” first hand. Many students are growing up with an America characterized by fear mongering and isolation. This is not the America that I believe in. But I know just how influential these early images and messages can be on students’ views of the world.

Shifting Demographics

In the past, racial tensions have not completely crippled American society largely because the vast majority of Americans were White. But America is now in the midst of a seismic demographic shift that will change the status quo of political power. In 1965, White people made up about 85 percent of America’s population. By 2055, America will be a majority-minority country. The most diverse generation in American history is making its way through our classrooms. American schools are already majority-minority. And the majority of American babies born today are already majority-minority. These trends make the “Trump Effect” even more terrifying. Allowing this hateful language now will have an outsized, potentially crippling effect on the next generation by cementing today’s divisions.

Confronting Reality

It is our responsibility as education activists to ensure today’s messages do not harden into basic values for our students. I didn’t really understand the gravity of that chilly January day in 2008. Over the past eight years, I came to better understand the weight of President Obama’s election because my teachers and fellow students pushed me to confront the ugly trends in American history. Just as I didn’t understand at first, the chanting students in Michigan and the swastika-drawing students in Bethesda likely do not fully understand the implications of their words or actions either. Our schools need to push all students to think critically about the past 18 months, even when the realities are inevitably uncomfortable and painful, so they can understand and confront the racial divisions that continue to drive the ugliness of today.

Holding Out Hope

Some students are parroting Trump’s message. But there are many students who are pushing back. Just as we hear racist chants in some classrooms, we see students across the country rejecting hatred and prejudice. High school students in Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. took to the streets to have their voices heard. Students in L.A. carried signs reading “Be Kind Not Racist” and “Bridges Not Walls.” Students at colleges and universities across the country are advocating for their campuses to remain sanctuaries for undocumented students. I hope that the students who grow up with this new political culture will look back at the reaction of these students and see an alternative view of politics. Hopefully, they will be molded more by these students than by President-elect Trump. I do fear for the effects of a Trump presidency on America’s students. But I remain hopeful because Trump’s message isn’t the only one. We need to make sure the next generation hears the right messages in our schools and works together to make sure 2016 does not happen again.
Matt Fulle is an intern at Education Post and an undergraduate at Northwestern University's School of Communication studying communication studies and legal studies. He has spent the last 5 years working to advance student voice in education reform. In high school, he helped to start a pilot program for student surveys as a form of teacher evaluation for the Seattle Public School District. In ...

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