Literacy · Teaching Reflections · Topics for Parents and Students

No, the world is not coming to an end: 10 teachable moments about the American Election results to use in the classroom and at home

America has a new president-elect: Mr. Donald Trump, and kids want to talk about it, debate opinions, watch news programs and gasp – maybe even read about it or write a reflection expressing their emotions. It’s Christmas come early for teachable moments.

More importantly, though, is our role in education to dispel the negative hype and predictions of apocalypse surrounding the turn of political leadership south of the border.

My students had many questions and opinions this morning, but when asked to substantiate them, none could. This, for me, is more concerning than their exaggerated opinions and fears.

One student was near tears and informed me that “World War 3” is near. When I asked her to elaborate on why she thought this, all she could muster was that Mr. Trump ‘wants war’. Interesting, because in the media footage, debates and interviews I’ve watched about his campaign, Trump was pretty clear in stating that he was against the Gulf War, thought the government needed to invest more money in jobs and the economy rather than warfare and was more concerned with America’s self interests rather than the problems of other countries.

Another student informed me that Mr. Trump is a dictator. When probed, not only could they not clearly define what a dictator was, but they also seemed perplexed when I asked them how a dictator could run the world’s largest democracy. Their eyes glazed over when I went into a short dissertation regarding the inner workings of the American political system and how there are checks and balances in place (such as the Senate) to stop one person from making decisions unilaterally.

A third student lamented that the election was ‘rigged’ and in actuality Hilary Clinton had more votes and should have won. Good point – except that isn’t how the electoral system in the States works. I suggested they visit the American Electoral College website to find more information about how Mr. Trump won, with less of the popular vote.

I also realized that my students were echoing comments I’d seen somewhere……….just couldn’t put my finger on it – oh wait – yeah, I got it: Facebook.

My students were gathering their ‘information’ from social media and they were reading it like the Bible.  This reality makes me cringe, but it also helped me generate a floodgate of things I could do in my classroom to use the hype around the American election results to my advantage. Many of these ideas are also transferable to teaching children at home.

Check them out! I’ve listed my top 10 ideas below.

Teachable Moment #1: Have students work in groups (or alone) to read articles, watch debate footage and visit Mr. Trump’s website to create a list of the points in his platform (i.e. what he actually plans to do, not the here say), then discuss the impact on how American policies and laws may change over the next four years. For older grades this could also extend to  potential changes that  could impact Canada and Canadian/American relations.

Teachable Moment #2: Show students news reports about election results from different news sources, both in North America and worldwide. Have them discuss different interpretations of the results as well as different opinions about Mr. Trump. This can lead to a wider debate/discussion about the influence of media and the political ideals that back various media outlets.

Teachable Moment #3: Let students scroll Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites! Yep, that’s what I said, but wait…..there’s a purpose here. Have them list comments/articles and posts they read about the election results and Mr. Trump into three columns: opinions, facts, and here say. To extend this further, when sharing examples of ‘facts’ have them discuss/debate what facts/sources should be regarded as authoritative in terms of reliable information.

Teachable Moment #4: Play with the hype! Have students make an honest comparison between Hitler (or Mussolini or Stalin) and Mr. Trump. Also, encourage a comparison between the countries that produced these dictators and the state they were in when this occurred. See what comes of this…….you may dispel the hype fairly quickly, as the last time I checked, although he is an arrogant sexist, Mr. Trump is not a psychotic murderer hell-bent on exterminating a segment of his populous.

Teachable Moment #5: It’s a numbers game, after all. Have students calculate mathematically how Mr. Trump was elected. You may need to do a bit of research yourself here in terms of the mathematical information required for this activity, but it would be a great one for any math class. You could also discuss ratios in terms of the votes in various states. Lots of opportunities for math teachers.

Teachable Moment #6:  Just write. Students have a flood of thoughts and emotions regarding this particular topic. Let them express them in writing, or ranting if that suits them better! We have a daily journal topic in many of my classes, but in others just give them the opportunity to write without judgement. Say you’ll collect them and write them a message back. Encourage them to share their emotions and fears, and to ask questions that they may feel are ‘stupid’. Use your written responses as an opportunity to quell fear, answer questions and share factual information.

Teachable Moment #7: Debate. Students have opinions; lots of them. Let them share them in an organized forum. Divide students up into groups that either 1) think Mr. Trump will be a fine president  or 2) think Mr. Trump will destroy America. Allow individual groups some research time together and let them talk about the key points they’d like to argue. Have them pick ‘speakers’ and let them debate! There are so many variations for an activity like this to generate more speakers, etc. so pick one that works for your class……or your dinner table.

Teachable Moment #8: Use the very popular ‘Article of the Week’ activity coined by American educator, Kelly Gallagher. He posts his weekly articles and activities on his website: article of the week – Kelly Gallagher. Essentially, he provides students with a ‘hot topic’ article and asks them to actively read it (highlighting, noting comments and questions), then write an open response to it (usually based on some inquiry questions he provides). I can just about guarantee that he will post an article about the election results, so to make it even easier you can just use his resources, but if you want to create your own there a plethora of grade and subject specific articles that you could find to suit your own students.

Teachable Moment #9: Make students think: how did we get here? What was and has been going on in American politics and culture to allow someone like Mr. Trump to be elected president? I know that this is a question I’d love to dig a bit deeper into. Allow students to work in small groups and focus on a key ‘deep thinking’ question they would research, discuss, then share their thoughts about. Some questions that I’ve been thinking about are: Why don’t Americans trust Hilary Clinton? How much influence did the culture of celebrity in the U.S.A. have on Mr. Trump’s victory? What role did the media play in Mr. Trump’s victory? What is going on in the American economy, and do Americans blame the Democrats for their current economic problems? What role did fear play in influencing people to vote for Mr. Trump? What is the Canadian media not telling us about what is going on in the U.S.A.? Why were the pollsters so wrong about the outcome of the election? Were Americans not ready for a female president? Soooooooo many possibilities here. Suit questions that focus on your student’s abilities and interests.

Teachable Moment #10: Have a good laugh! This election, more than any, has created some great comedic television. From late night talk show hosts, to political satire programs (such as This Hour has 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report), and popular comedy shows like Saturday Night Live there are some fantastic clips to watch about the election, and very soon…..the results. After viewing the comedy segments, great discussions about parodies and how comedy can be used to influence the vote can be had. Again, select clips and discussions that suit your student’s age and ability level.

Do not let this teachable moment pass you by as an educator or parent! Our students and children have thoughts, fears and questions about this very public election, and they need time and activities to process the information provided to them. Use this as an opportunity to encourage independent research, reading and critical analysis of the situation at hand.

How are you going to use the American election results in your classroom or home? Post your comments and ideas below!



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