Because Even After This Election, I Have Hope.
I woke up on November 9th feeling heavy, wondering when and how to answer the questions of middle schoolers staring up at me that morning in science class. Maybe they would have questions? Maybe they wouldn’t? Maybe they hadn’t had a chance to process yet? Maybe they had their minds made up? Maybe they were sad? Maybe they were upset? Maybe they were anxious about their families? Or maybe, they just didn’t know what to say about it all?
They walked in that morning and we did what we have done many times before in class – we made a circle. Restorative circles aren’t anything new in this class. We use restorative circles to speak, share, and most importantly – connect with each other. I let the students know as they set up their chairs that we would talk about the results of the election and how they were doing with it all. Students were reminded of the rules; be respectful, talk when you have the talking piece (our classroom alien plush toy), listen, and answer the question genuinely. Students could also “pass” on sharing when the talking piece came around to them (which some of them did).
Before we began I reviewed some facts about democracy and how one person cannot create a disaster over night. There was a lot of confusion and then head nodding – I think they needed to be explicitly told that our president-elect could not just start building a wall tomorrow. We talked about the steps it takes for a bill to become a law, the house of representatives selection, checks and balances, and senate roles.
Then I started giving them sentence frames to provide them a safe space to share their views. (Noteworthy – I got these questions from Twitter that morning – check them out here. There is also a run-down of what restorative circles are and how to start them, thank you Ashley Westhaver!). Here is a snapshot of some responses from my 8th graders.
- The main thing on my mind after seeing the election results is/are _______________.
- I am wondering about my future
- I am wondering I am safe
- I am wondering if he will actually pass all of the laws that he wants to
- I wonder if he will help people to work together
- Everyone rioting because they are so upset
- Will he really build a wall?
- Can he start deporting everyone?
- He is sexist
- He has no political experience, he is a business man
- He is racist
- He acts like a child and isn’t mature
- One thing I wish the adults who voted understood is __________________.
- The media pours anxiety onto us and a lot of what they say is not true
- The radio stations talk about it so that people get more scared
- However they voted, a bigot or corruption would have won, it was a lose lose
- He would start deporting people right away
- Trump can’t do anything without congress approving things
- That escaping to Canada doesn’t do much because their economy relies on our economy
- Not everyone should judge him just yet, let’s see if he can produce results
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as _________.
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as safe.
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as equal.
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as fair.
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as protected.
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as bright.
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as happy.
- 20 years from now, I hope my future children will describe our country as okay.
Our students are not concerned about the lies told by a candidate. Put simply, they SEE that they are lies and they’re calling it. They are not fooled. Let that sink in and give you some comfort – even kids are not fooled by this. They aren’t dwelling. They admitted to having stress but also have shown their resilience. Their overall advice (if I can summarize it the best I can) is to stop listening to the media, ignore the lies, pay attention to who is in congress, read about propositions, treat veterans better, keep the Chargers in San Diego because the hotel tax doesn’t mean a citizen tax, and moving to Canada won’t save you (have I mentioned that I love middle schoolers?).
Finally, and most importantly – there was a broader worry and concern of, will he actually DO all of the things he said he would? I validated and reassured them, and also tried to remind them of our democratic process, but even I know that I am concerned when I think of the next 4 years. So this is where our jobs as adults come in. We need to not only re-group from this quickly and effectively, but we need to get back to work – because our students are watching. And our students depend on us. We owe it to them to advocate to make sure they experience a safe, fair, and just society.
And so after the circle was done, we took some deep breaths, put on our lab coats and goggles and returned to diagnosing diseases in our mystery patients. Little did they know, they had also just diagnosed our current society and questions about the future, better than any CNN correspondent could have.
I left my classroom feeling lifted. The somber mood of the morning had dissipated. I realized that even though I am the only adult in my classroom, students are my allies. They get it. They are watching intently. They are watching their country. They are watching the world’s reactions. They are soaking it all in and making evidence-based statements. They’re not messing around and they are surely not giving up.
So even after this election, I have hope.
Alicia Johal is an 8th grade science teacher at Mar Vista Academy.