Instead of Bashing Trump, Here’s the Conversation You Should Have With Your Students

Kids are angry at Donald Trump and the state of politics in America. And they have every right to be. Our president bullies his critics, interferes with the freedom of the press, admonishes women and minorities and among many other things, he takes no action even when 17 kids were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. So, of course kids (and lots of folks) are angry. Phrases like “F--- Trump” and “Punch A Fascist” are now being printed on t-shirts and shouted in protests. Even though I know Trump has said even more cringe-worthy phrases, my gut reaction to these anti-Trump sayings is also that they, too, are violent and are destructive to building a cohesive world. Words may not inflict bruises and scars, but they do create an environment that could escalate to physical violence, which is why I believe that language can be incredibly powerful. I do not believe that responding to Trump with equally violent rhetoric will help effect meaningful change. Instead, this type of language creates a greater divide and squashes the possibility of meaningful dialogue. So, what do we do when these words enter into classroom conversations? In my role as a mentor, activist and informal environmental education teacher, I impart learned lessons from nonviolent communication with my students. Nonviolent communication, founded by Marshall Rosenberg, refers to a set of principles and beliefs that help us move towards a more compassionate and peaceful world. Using nonviolent communication principles and beliefs as a framework, I don’t explicitly tell students to not use these words, but, instead I challenge them to consider if their language actually moves the world closer to accordance and peace or farther away from accordance and peace. I specifically challenge my students to:
  1. Consider the needs and feelings of someone with a different perspective. This exercise humanizes the people who think differently than us. This is important because sometimes we forget that they actually are human beings simply on the search to meet common needs the best way they know how. Many people who did not vote for Donald Trump think we know these people, but I challenge that we really don’t know them.
  2. Respond from a place of curiosity. When someone disagrees with you, steer clear of making a judgement such as, “That’s stupid!” or, “That’s a terrible idea!” Instead, respond with questions such as, “Why do you think that’s so?” and, “What experiences have you had on this topic?” Leaving the conversation open with questions instead of judgements allows you to learn more about the other person’s frame of reference. You don’t have to agree at the end of the conversation, but at least with this approach you actually might unsuspectingly learn a thing or two.
  3. Say out loud: “I may be wrong.” Perhaps some of the hardest words to ever utter aloud, “I may be wrong,” throws a blow to your ego. It recognizes that you don’t know everything, that you haven’t considered all of the possibilities, that you haven’t read all of the literature, and that you haven’t talked to all of the people involved—all of which is true. The truth is that we all could be wrong at anytime, anyplace, for the rest of our lives. Saying these words are humbling and reminds us how unproductive self-righteous attitudes are when we are engaging with others.
I’ve seen many adults who work with kids be dismissive of language like “F--- Trump” and “Punch A Fascist” because, quite frankly, they agree. I also met many adults who wanted to address this language with their loudest anti-Trump students, but didn’t know how to because the adult shared a great deal of empathy with the student. But if you’re hoping to create space in your classroom for conversations around peace and understanding, I believe these strategies will be helpful to you. Your students may recognize how “F--- Trump” and “Punch A Fascist” might be exhilarating and catchy, but also might be counterproductive when engaging people who think differently than them. I care about the future of the United States and believe that when we communicate nonviolently, we are taking steps for mending the divide that currently exists in many communities.
Charles Orgbon III is the Founder of Greening Forward and advocates for youth voice and leadership.

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