How Trump’s Rhetoric Impacts Students

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The last few weeks have been traumatic. More African-American men were killed by police. And snipers executed 8 officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s times like these when we need our President to reassure us and help deescalate the tension.

But, Donald Trump wholly lacks this quality. Over the past year, he has shown no desire or ability to reconcile differences, to heal wounds, or to soothe suffering. Instead, Trump uses his candidacy to encourage intolerance and incite violence.

Donald TrumpShould Trump win the Presidency, his rhetoric encouraging violence would have dire consequences in American schools. Already, teachers report a “Trump Effect,” corresponding with increased fear, bullying, and racial tensions. Elementary school children are organizing against him because his rhetoric and policies alienate them and their families.

Under a Trump Administration the trouble wouldn’t stop there.

In fact, Trump’s positions on school safety would undercut efforts and progress we’ve made toward closing the school-to-prison pipeline. For example, instead of decreasing police presence in schools, he wants to go several steps in the other direction and arm teachers. From here, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision Trump doubling down on failed zero-tolerance policies, pushing for greater police presence in schools, as well as adding metal detectors and other security measures in schools.

As history has shown time and time again, this kind of reaction to tragedy and violence in schools is the wrong response. More police means more arrests, not less violence. Moreover, these policies and practices disproportionately target students of color. The most recent Civil Rights Data Collection found black students are 2.3 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement as white students. They also found large race-based disparities in school suspensions, even in preschool.  

For students, the results are devastating.

A single suspension can double a student’s likelihood of dropping out.  A recent study found that disproportionate experiences with school discipline contribute significantly to the race-based achievement gap. Another found that the achievement of students who are never suspended is negatively affected in a school with a high-rate of suspension. In fact, suspensions don’t even work as a deterrent. The likelihood of a student being suspended actually increases after their first suspension.  

All of these problems would likely be compounded under Trump. The progress made in states like Maryland and Connecticut toward reducing exclusionary discipline, limiting arrests, and increasing school safety would be threatened — and perhaps lost altogether.

Trump seems to believe that the thing to do when faced with violence and unrest is to be “strong,” unapologetic, and uncompromising. But in truth, the brave thing is not to clench your fist and be combative. The courageous thing is to deescalate the situation and find workable solutions.

Unfortunately, Trump favors bringing a gun to a knife fight when in reality the answer is to stop fighting.