The Terrifying “Trump Effect” On America’s Schools

A new survey of teachers across the country found that Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric is striking fear in the hearts of minority children

(Photo Illustration:Diana Quach)
Apr 13, 2016 at 6:19 PM ET

Donald Trump’s racially charged rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims is being felt in schools across the country—and it’s hindering the way teachers explain the presidential election process to students, according to a new survey of approximately 2,000 teachers.

The survey, conducted by the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, found that the GOP frontrunner’s campaign has led to increased bullying of “students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates.”

“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” one teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslims responded to the survey questions. “They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.”

In its survey questions, the SPLC did not identify any candidates by name, but more than 1,000 of the responses included the name Donald Trump. More than 500 comments contained the words “fear, scares, afraid, anxious or terrified” to describe the feelings of minority students. The SPLC acknowledges that the data obtained is less than scientific. “Our email subscribers and those who visit our website are not a random sample of teachers nationally, and those who chose to respond to our survey are likely to be those who are most concerned about the impact of the presidential campaign on their students and schools,” the organization explains, but it provides “a rich source of information about the impact of this year’s election on the country’s classrooms.”

“We’re deeply concerned about the level of fear among minority children who feel threatened by both the incendiary campaign rhetoric and the bullying they’re encountering in school,” said Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen. “We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump.”

A teacher in North Carolina, the SPLC claims, said that Latino students at her school carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school with them because “they are afraid they will be deported.”

Trump’s rhetoric has led to bullying of immigrant and Muslim students, according to more than a third of the respondents. More than 40 percent of the teachers who responded to the survey said they were hesitant to teach anything about the election. “I try to not bring it up since it is so stressful for my students,” said a teacher in Arlington, Virginia, according to the SPLC.

“Schools are finding that their anti-bullying work is being tested and, in many places, falling apart,” said Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, author of the report. “Most teachers seem to feel they need to make a choice between teaching about the election or protecting their kids. In elementary schools, half have decided to avoid it. In middle and high schools, we’re seeing more who have decided, for the first time, not to be neutral.”