Chaos in our Classrooms

Back in the day, growing up in Doylestown and attending Central Bucks High School, our classrooms had a reputation of being sanctuaries for learning Civics: The three branches of government, the cabinet names and the importance of presidential elections. At each cycle of the presidential election, one of those now extinct-dependable lever voting machines was rolled into the lobby where  we experienced civic responsibility by voting for our choice.

While there has been recurring news coverage of physical and verbal confrontations between anti-Trump and pro-Trump supporters, our main stream media has failed to report on how this presidential election has affected students in our nation’s schools, from Kindergarten through 12th Grade.

Several days ago a special 16 page report from SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance landed in my mailbox. On the cover is an angry image of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, captured in one of his all too familiar moments with his mouth contorted into a mercurial circle.  I can almost hear the hurtful, divisive and racist statements spewing from his lips.

Cover of special report by 'Teaching Tolerance' on Presidential Primary Civics in the Classroom

Cover of SPLC special report
published by ‘Teaching Tolerance’

Compiled by Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen B. Costello, the report is an insightful  exmination of the impact of how the 2016 presidential campaign is affecting students in our nation’s schools. It summarizes the opinions from a survey completed by nearly 2,000 educators from across America. Their responses were  accompanied with over 5,000 comments. More information about this survey with the  questions asked is available online at

In Costello’s Introduction, she writes how immigrant students or children of immigrants and Muslims “… expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.”  This national increase in uncivil political discourse and anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment has become a concern to teachers.

Most sadly, “… 40%” of teachers were hesitant to teach about the election. The report is then broken down into two categories: Impact on Students and Impact on Teaching. Various instances of teachers’ responses described how students were “terrified” that the outcome would change their lives.  Beyond immigrants and children of immigrants, these students included Muslims, African Americans and children of color. Although their ancestors arrived here as slaves before the American Revolution, African-American students were fearful that they would be deported back to Africa.

Here are two quotes from teachers lifted from Impact on Students:

My fifth-graders got in a fist fight on the playground yesterday … when one of the boys quoted Donald Trump.”

“… ‘dirty Mexican’ has become a common insult. Before… it was never heard.”

The other section, Impact on Teachers overflows with comments ranging from frustration to disappointment to hope to determined responsibility. Teachers are between a rock and a hard place as they tiptoe in the classrooms each time students voice their preferences for a presidential candidate. Many teachers expressed how pleased they were to see their students engaged in research and writing about the primary system and the candidates. Although some teachers have stayed neutral still others chose to stay completely away from this time honored Civics lesson. Even then one teacher wrote:

“I have thrown caution into the wind and have spoken out against certain candidates which I have NEVER done …but I feel it’s my duty to speak out against ignorance!”

Since the inception of SPLC’s program Teaching Tolerance, its mission of promoting peace and diversity instead of bullying and racism was a classroom success.  A teacher in Edmonds, Washington commented that for his students this election ” … stands out for modeling the worst kind of behavior … I hope they don’t walk away thinking this is what politics is all about.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the chosen presumptive presidential nominees. I wonder… Just what conversations are  happening inside the homes where the youth of our next generation live? School will soon be out for the summer … What will happen on our playgrounds or at local swimming pools or on the fields of competition?

Teach Tolerance

Teach Tolerance


“Just Walk Away”

Bullying locker 2

My 17 year-old granddaughter is the victim of facebook bullying at her high school. What happened to her is probably a textbook case how this serious issue of bullying occurs in our schools every day and escalates if not stopped. My granddaughter is mixed race: African American, Native American and Caucasian. She attends a school where there are only a couple handfuls of students-of-color.

For the purpose of this post the names of the students and the high school will remain anonymous. I’ll refer to them as G for my granddaughter; Bully-Girl for the facebook writer; and Fat Girl for a student probably recruited by Bully-Girl. Dr. AP is the assistant principal at this un-named high school located in a county just north across the line from Bucks County. My daughter is M.

For the past several weeks my granddaughter G received harassing messages on her facebook page sent by Bully-Girl…dumb stuff that started after G happened to talk to Bully-Girl’s boyfriend. G, being a strong young girl chose not to let this nonsense pass by without a response. Throughout this episode I’m proud of G for keeping her cool. Soon messages were flying back and forth, hateful and nasty messages. When Bully-Girl referred to G as a “… fucking monkey cunt”, G told her mother (my daughter M). G was miserable and angry. She said that Bully-Girl was now hurling verbal taunts when they passed each other in the halls. When G described this harassment I too was angry but calmly cautioned G—“I know it’s hard, but when she gets in your face, just walk away. Just Walk Away.”

Last Friday a meeting was held between G’s parents and the principal. Dr. AP was able to view all the messages because G had saved them. M insisted that a meeting be arranged where Bully Girl’s parents will be sitting in the same room with G’s parents. The only commitment made by Dr. AP was to assure G’s parents that the school would monitor the behavior of the students involved in this bullying episode

The assistant principal also said he would speak to Bully-Girl and contact her parents. A future meeting will be arranged with the parents of Bully-Girl, G and the boy who initially became the catalyst of this problem. M insisted that if this incident got out of hand, she wanted the police to be contacted. Dr. AP promised that if there was an escalation of behavior, he would contact the police.

The next school day my granddaughter calls her mother from girls’ bathroom. Crying, she describes how more verbal taunts came from Bully-Girl. Apparently the assistant principal must have talked to Bully-Girl because as G walks down the hall, Bully-Girl follows behind her, calling her a “snitch”. G still holds her cool and turns around. She says to Bully-Girl, “Can’t you say that to my face?” G turns away from Bully-Girl and continues walking down the hall. Then a heavy set girl (Fat Girl) walks behind G and says,  “You cunt, if you want to call me ‘fat’ say it to my face.” When G turns around she sees Bully-Girl standing next to Fat Girl.

G says, “Excuse me? I never said that about you and if your friend has a problem with me she can talk to me.”

Fat Girl says “This has nothing to do with Bully Girl– this is about you and me.”

As G walks away she says, “I’m not dealing with this.” Fat Girl catches up to G and trailing right behind G, pushes her into a row of lockers. A crowd of students gathers. G throws her books on the floor, ready to lunge at Fat Girl. Fortunately a male friend of G grabs her, picking her up and away from a disaster saying, “No, calm down”. Another student keeps Fat Girl from an altercation that could’ve been disastrous.

There was no call to M from the school about this. M is pissed, calls the school and asks to speak to the principal. She describes to the staff member on the phone the violent incident that happened to G and asks, “Why wasn’t I called?” The staff member replies that Dr. AP is in a meeting and “will call you back.” An hour later, no response to my daughter so I call with the same concern and am directed to Dr. AP’s voicemail. Two days later and no call back.

Is this the standard procedure for bully incidents in schools? No child should attend ANY school and be expected to learn in a toxic environment only to say, “I don’t want to go to this school anymore.”  We learn from G that Fat Girl is on ‘in-house suspension’. Bully-Girl is still walking the halls. Both of those decisions by the school are worrisome to me.

I’ve sent an email to the Dr. AP asking for answers: What does it mean on their website to offer services of Mediation? Being familiar with restorative justice programs, I am disappointed as to not find a narrative attached to this Mediation program. And, Why does the School District’s website have a link called ‘Diversity’ and when I open it, find a list of national organizations associated with civil rights? A list that a worried parent or guardian must maneuver through to find help with their problem? One organization missing on the District’s Diversity’ list and that I recommended to Dr. AP was the Teaching Tolerance program under the Southern Poverty Law Center. I cannot understand why more schools are not using this excellent program to educate their students about racism or bullying.

I don’t expect a reply to my email from Dr. AP in a timely fashion. But hold hope he’ll respond. Soon.