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In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, it has become increasingly clear that we are entering an abnormal era of American history. The xenophobia, religious intolerance, and white supremacy, aren’t new to life in America. But, Donald Trump’s presidency has made many of us feel that the “moral arc of the universe” is bending away from justice. In addition to the proliferation of hate crimes, many of us also worry about a general trend toward authoritarianism and kleptocracy. What will happen to freedom of speech? To what extent is Donald Trump going to exploit the office of President for his own enrichment? It’s clear we need to prepare our students for life in this dystopia.
I consider both of these skills essential to survival in dystopia. But lately, I'm thinking more and more about the power of love. I believe if our students are to survive and thrive in the next four to eight years of Trump, nothing will be more important than love. This includes self-love and love for others.
At first self-love is a tricky thing to teach. I think a lot of teachers would say it is completely outside the domain of our classrooms. But the fact is there are a lot of ways our curriculum can encourage or diminish self-love in our students. As far as how to teach self-love to our students, as with all things, it begins with modeling.In my early years of teaching, I did not mention my Jewish identity. Click To Tweet
In my early years of teaching, I did not mention my Jewish identity. I was nervous about creating an additional barrier between me and my students. I was already the only white person in the room, did I really want to out myself as Jewish? As I've grown more comfortable as a teacher, I've also learned the ways teaching is about sharing yourself with your students. Students love learning about their teachers. It's a part of building a positive relationship as much as anything. We learn so much about our students in the course of the year, it's only fair to reciprocate to a certain degree. Now, whenever I speak to my students about their identities or the general idea of diversity, I make sure to draw on my own experiences as a Jewish person.Teaching self-love is based on the texts and curricula we select for our students Click To Tweet
Beyond showing the ways we honor and appreciate our own heritage, teaching self-love is based on the texts and curricula we select for our students. In addition to opening up new worlds to my students through "window" books, I make sure to choose plenty of read alouds that act as "mirrors", books where my students can see positive images of people that look like them.
As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop explains, "When children cannot find themselves reflected in books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part."Teaching self-love is based on the texts and curricula we select for our students. Click To Tweet
Conversely, when we show our students that the world is made up of a beautiful array of people with valuable stories to learn from, we show them that they are loved. As we prepare for a presidency led by a man quick to disparage and devalue people who are marginalized, this message will be all the more crucial in our classrooms.
Love for Others
Similarly, while President-Elect Trump has no qualms acting as a bully, we must continue to stand up against bullying and bias in our classrooms. We must encourage our students to show respect and love for others, as we always have.We must encourage our students to show respect and love for others, as we always have. Click To Tweet
Sharing diverse stories in our classrooms is one way to do this. Research shows that reading fiction can actually cultivate empathy for others.
But we must also work to teach beyond surface level, feel-good "diversity". We must teach our students to identify and criticize systems of power. What does this have to do with love? Love is about honesty. It also requires accountability. If we are serious about loving our students, and helping them love others, we must help them see the ways they are a part of systems of power including racism, sexism, and ableism.
We are certainly entering a dark era. It seems to be a time when hateful rhetoric is not only accepted, it's being celebrated. When our President is a man who disparages women, people of color, Muslims, and the disabled, it's hard to call our society anything other than dystopian. But we will not allow our students to accept this.
In activist spaces today, it is common to share the words of the "Assata chant":
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
If we want our students to survive and thrive in the years ahead, we must acknowledge the power of love. It is not only a positive feeling, it is essential to the fight for freedom.