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International Schools Weigh in on the U.S. Election

By Meadow Hilley, TIE Editor
International Schools Weigh in on the  U.S. Election

On November 8, voters went to the polls to elect the 45th president of the United States in what was reportedly one of the most divisive campaigns in U.S. history. Republican candidate Donald Trump came away the victor and now the country is asking itself how to move forward as the world wonders aloud just what it should expect.
Naturally, we at TIE were eager to know how the news of what promises to mark a major paradigm shift in both American domestic politics and foreign policy would resonate throughout the international school community. Two days after the election, TIE and the Principals’ Training Center (PTC) conducted a brief survey of some 130 international schools around the world, the majority not specifically “American,” asking for their perspective on this event.
Of the thirty-four people who completed the short survey, the majority were based in South America (12). Ten educators currently serving in Asia weighed in, along with six in Europe, three in Africa, and three in North America.
“What questions, if any, has the recent U.S. election raised in your school community?” the survey asked. Responses covered a wide range of topics as educators shared the sorts of issues commonly raised in conversation with their colleagues, students, families, and other community stakeholders in response to the election results. The overwhelming majority of those who responded expressed disappointment in the election results. What follows is a summary of those responses; it does not represent the views of either TIE or the PTC.
Framing the conversation
While many respondents expressed the belief that the U.S. elections—like those in other nations—should be discussed openly, exactly how to frame the discussion in the classroom was problematic for some. “How do we ensure that we educate and not indoctrinate students based on our own beliefs and biases?” one asked. Another wondered how to separate out the moral and political questions circling around this election. “Trump’s sexism, racism, and xenophobia are not political and go contrary to our school’s values,” this educator wrote. “How can we stand for our values without appearing to be political? Should we remain neutral with such a grave threat to democracy looming?”
A number of those surveyed struggled to decide where to draw the line between allowing students to voice their opinions and curbing dangerous or hurtful rhetoric. Several insisted on the importance of teaching critical thinking skills as well as how to “research and evaluate sources of information about key issues that will govern our lives.”
The quandary described by teachers about how to frame classroom discussion was echoed a number of times by those struggling to determine whether their schools should formulate an official response to events or remain impartial. Was it possible to address the election process, its outcomes, and possible impact on the U.S. and the world without passing judgment?
“We do not believe U.S. politics have a bearing on our school and community,” one respondent insisted. “As an international school, we focus on world politics in general… We look at all events of great magnitude in the same way, open-minded and with facts.”
Although the survey simply asked what questions were being raised on campus, several respondents noted an apparent effect on some teachers. “Local staff fear for friends and family in the States,” explained one educator. “Expat staff fear the fallout of being an American abroad and becoming once again the laughing stock of the global community as we were under Bush.”
Safety and security
Safety concerns were another recurring theme in the comments posted in response to the survey, as members shared fears related to both the possibility of foreign students facing racism in the States and U.S. citizens encountering hostility and reprisals while overseas.
“How safe are the college campuses in light of all the rioting and violence?” one educator asked, echoing a common concern. “How will international students feel and be treated if they choose to go to college in the U.S.?” Many felt sure that these events would lead to a significant decrease in applications among international school students. “A large number of our seniors will not apply to U.S. universities and colleges while Trump is in office,” someone stated categorically.
For some American students and teachers, recent events increased their ambivalence about returning to the U.S. in the near or long term, prompting a reassessment of their goals in certain cases. One educator reported that students were “concerned they cannot go back home.”
“There is a great deal of uncertainty,” reported one respondent, “especially among U.S. citizens.” Another commented that “teachers are worried about their jobs.”
A rise in bullying?
Again and again, educators responding to the survey expressed their concern that the model presented by president-elect Trump, with his history of inflammatory rhetoric, would cause an increase in bullying among students. “How do we raise globally minded citizens who are empathetic and honor diversity, yet now we have a very influential leader in our world who has shown the opposite?”
Another respondent signaled a new and growing tension on campus between American and local students. Still another expressed the common fear that Trump’s victory would send a message to young people that it is “acceptable to discriminate against other people on the grounds of race, gender, disability, and sexual orientation.” Indeed, “it might appear to some that bullying behaviors can be rewarded by election to high office.”
Questions on related themes poured in: “How do we raise our girls to feel empowered when there is yet to be a woman president?” “How do we keep the focus of our children on love when there is so much hate?” “How will hate crimes be policed if the president endorses them?”
Geopolitical impact
Many reflected on global issues that often have an effect on international schools. The value of the U.S. dollar; the possible impact on investment, aid, and employment; the reversal of multilateral agreements and their renegotiation; and fear that increased American isolationism could profoundly reshape the geopolitical landscape were all cited.
Many reported hearing or sharing concerns about the expected impact of Trump’s policies on the countries and regions in which they are currently operating. “How will this affect foreign relations between Ecuador and the U.S.?” asked one member. What might be its impact the U.S. military presence in Korea, wondered a second?
“With the U.S. and Brexit results and the election in Turkey, coupled with the emergence of right-of-center politicians in France and Germany, nationalism apparently and unfortunately is spreading throughout the world,” wrote one educator.
What students are saying
Shock and disbelief characterize many of the responses heard from students, according to those weighing in on the survey. “How could this happen?” was a common refrain. One educator explains that students were confused by the fact that the new leader has none of the dispositions they’d been taught they would need in order to attain success. “How does a man who has demonstrated, throughout his election campaign, values and beliefs that are so opposed to those taught at our school manage to become elected as President of the United States?”
Some of the more sophisticated responses came as students struggled to understand why the media failed to predict the outcome, how it may have contributed to his win, and to what extent the president-elect might stick to his platform. “What can we do?” many wanted to know.
While the majority of opinions conveyed seemed to indicate students’ dissatisfaction with the election results, some had a different response. “I am unsure if the actual results of Mr. Trump being elected stirred much emotion,” stated one respondent. “We have many non-U.S. students in our school, both local and from other countries,” explained another. “They want to know why election results in the U.S. are so important to the rest of the world.”
Teachable moments
Many understood this moment as an opportunity to reevaluate long-held assumptions and begin difficult conversations about racism, tolerance, capitalism, and equality. One stated enthusiastically that “these are incredible teaching moments for our teachers!!”
Ultimately, according to one survey participant, these results reminded us “to value democracy,” even when the outcome disappoints us. Some were stoic: “Regardless of the outcome of any election, what we teach, how we teach, our modeling of empathy and compassion changes not.”
“We remain committed to teaching our students that caring for the planet is a necessity; that the best governments leave no one behind; that the diverse and respectful opinions of many make nations stronger; that democracy is vital to the world.”

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12/19/2016 - Cynthia
It must be especially hard for educators who uphold a certain standard of behavior and expectations for their students to explain how actions and statements that would likely get a student suspended or expelled, got a man elected to President of the United States. Unfortunately, the message seems to be the bully wins!



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