9:14 a.m. PST December 9, 2015
Tuesday morning, a North Salem High School student played a video of the White House’s response to Donald Trump’s remarks calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” for their American government class.
Suddenly, the candidate’s comments permeated the classroom.
Educators and students said conversations on current events are extremely important to student learning — but discrimination is not welcome.
“Addressing Trump’s recent comments on Muslims is absolutely essential in classroom spaces,” said Kaitlin Plunkett Franklin, a high school history and language arts teacher in Eugene and Springfield.
“I see eerie parallels from Trump’s comments to past WWII rhetoric that I want to guide my students to connect in an informed way,” she said. “Students need to understand the stories and facts behind the affects of such social and political actions in order to participate as informed citizens and understand the implications and nuances behind Trump’s speech.”
Plunkett Franklin added that while this is important, it is also important that students feel they have a safe space to discuss such things.
“Too many students already deal with feeling unsafe in classroom spaces in Oregon, whether it’s because of race, socioeconomic status, or gender identity, for example,” she said. “With that in mind, schools may want to consider creating safe spaces for self-identified Muslim students and families on campus.”
According to Salem-Keizer School District representatives, the district works to ensure all students are safe and can learn free of discrimination.
“Our goal is for everyone to feel safe, supported and welcome at school every day,” said Jay Remy, a spokesperson for the district. “Staff and students are responsible for what they say to others and about others.”
“If students use what they hear in news media reports to make other students feel unwelcome or intimidated, they will face consequences,” he said. “Learning is the goal and we do not want differences over politics and religion to get in the way of learning.”
Aren Kyle, 18, is a senior at North Salem High School. He agreed that while these comments themselves are harmful, the conversations about them are extremely beneficial for a lot of students.
“Some will be offended, but at the same time, it forces students to think about things they wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said.
He said students build from their previous studies to understand historical context and begin forming their own opinions through these conversations.
Tyson Lazzaro teaches social studies at the International School of Beaverton.
He said he believes these comments can be harmful to many students, particularly those who identify as Muslim, whose parents identify as Muslim, or students from immigrant and migrant families in general, because they can make students feel excluded from the conversation, and from history.
“(These comments) change the conversation,” he said. “They irresponsibly introduce the idea that banning Muslims is a legitimate, political debate.”
However, Lazzaro said schools shouldn’t shy away from these conversations either. Rather, he said, these conversations need to be presented in an appropriate way.
He said he takes things slowly when controversial topics are brought up in his class. He finds larger themes, such as human rights, historical context or constitutionality, to address the issues and put them in a larger picture.
“It’s always useful to examine these events in class, but you have to be careful to make sure the discussion isn’t shutting down the learning process of anyone,” he said.
“My primary responsibility is to help my students learn. My students don’t learn well when they don’t feel safe and supported,” he said. “Nativist and xenophobic speech can make kids from all sorts of backgrounds feel threatened.
“I would be compromising my job duties as well as my ethics if I didn’t prepare my students to recognize these sentiments when they crop up in the public discourse, as they have done periodically throughout the history of this country.”