Hiding From the Bogeyman

Posted November 18, 2016
By Danielle S. McLaughlin

My eight-year-old granddaughter told me last week that she was scared. When I asked her why, she told me that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States, and that everyone in her class was scared too. And yes, she understood that we live in Canada and that Trump does not lead our country.  It seemed to her and other children that the bogeyman had escaped from their nightmares and had been elected to high office.

Children hear and see all our public discourse. We may think that they do not understand or else that they will find politics so boring that they won’t pay attention, but they are right there seeing and hearing what their adults do. What should we do about that?

When I was a little older than my granddaughter is now, I had a good friend whose German grandmother had survived the Second World War. Whenever the evening news came on television or on radio, Mutti would take my friend’s hand and lead her away so that they could neither hear nor see what was happening in the world. My friend learned from other kids about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. She was no less affected than the rest of us.

You may not think so this week, but it is an important benefit of living in a democratic country that we cannot shield even our youngest citizens from the experiences of democracy. Democracy is not always pretty. In fact, it can be downright scary. But, if we are beginning conversations with our children, there is hope for the future. Engaged and informed citizens are at the core of democracy, even if things take time to change.

Teachers and families, we need to get to work. Since the presidential election in the U.S., a New Yorker magazine on line survey of “teachers found that more than half of the respondents had seen an increase in hostile speech during the campaign.” [link]

We certainly need to respond, but how? Some think that ugly speech should be removed from the internet. They want to believe that, if we don’t see it, it isn’t there. Some teachers would forbid their students from discussing what they are hearing at home or in their communities.

I don’t think that censoring classroom talk or keeping children from experiencing the ugly campaign rhetoric of the last two years would produce the kind of engaged children I am seeing right now. We have heard a great deal about the racist, sexist and homophobic acts and incidents that have occurred since the U.S. election, both in the U.S. and in other countries, including Canada. However, we have also seen kids organizing marches, rallies, and simple acts of kindness to stand up for those people they fear will be marginalized or be the victims of verbal and physical attacks. Young people who could not vote, along with others who may or may not have voted, are gathering together to say that they will not stand by silently while rights are trampled or taken.

To be effective citizens, no matter our age, we need our freedom of expression. We need the freedom to see and hear about the ugly things that happen and we need the freedom to respond - to speak out and refuse to accept the racism, the religious prejudice, the anti-Semitism, the sexism, the homophobia, and bullying creeping into our classrooms and neighbourhoods.

If the bogeyman has been elected to high office, we need our children to wake up. Let’s ask them what they are afraid of. And then let’s get together to ensure that their fears are not realized.