Our guest author today is David Sherrin, a social studies teacher at Harvest Collegiate in New York City and the author of The Classes They Remember: Using Role-Plays to Bring Social Studies and English to Life as well as Judging for Themselves: Using Mock Trials to Bring Social Studies and English to Life. In 2014, he was the recipient of the Robert H. Jackson Center National Award for Teaching Justice.
This election has led to confusion, and soul-searching, amongst many. As a social studies teacher, I find that even the most experienced of educators are scrambling to reassess our election pedagogy for this campaign. Every four years, we dust off a playbook in which we investigate candidates’ positions, political party platforms, and the workings of the Electoral College. This time, though, the Donald Trump campaign, especially its use of troubling language and the violence at his rallies, call for new teaching strategies to help students grapple with an emotionally-charged election.
One powerful framework for learners to engage with this campaign is to consider the power of words. History is replete with examples of dirty campaigns, including charges of murder, rape, and adultery; indeed, elections in the 18th and 19th centuries were often surprisingly nasty. Still, it is noteworthy that GOP candidates Donald Trump and Marco Rubio chose to insult each other’s physical characteristics, with reference to their genitalia. It is also remarkable that a U.S. presidential candidate, such as Donald Trump, would actually encourage followers physically to attack opposition protestors. As when analyzing historical campaigns, we ought to help students see that (most) candidates select their words carefully just as authors do. When we ask students to close-read the use of political rhetoric, through Trump’s choice of words like “punch” and “knock ‘em out,” we add a nuance and depth to our political discussions.