I feel like the young people today (I felt about 2,000 years old while typing that) have headlines in their faces all of the time. They can’t go on Instagram or Snapchat without reading the newest gossip or rumor, or wanting to start some sort of challenge (curse you, whoever started the “Andy’s Coming!” challenge. Have you ever tried to start class and have 28 middle schoolers drop to the floor?). In recent weeks, I can’t open Facebook without being hit by a barrage of headlines regarding what is going on in the US.
I also know that there’s a lot of misinformation, and that when you’re 12 years old, it can be tough to wade through the almost constant stream of news. I mean, even college kids have trouble navigating what is real and what isn’t.
So recently, I started class and said, “I know a lot of you have been seeing news stories and hearing about various things going on, and I was wondering if any of you had any questions about it. This is a safe place, and we learn by asking questions, so please don’t be afraid to ask.”
Instantly, 25 little hands went into the air.
“Is it true that Trump wants to kill all Muslims?”
“I heard that all Mexicans are going to be deported, even if they were born here”
“Why would Trump ban people from seven continents? Isn’t that everybody?”
“What is CNN? And why’s it fake?”
“My cousin says that we’re going to go to war with Mexico and it’ll be World War Three”
“Well, my brother says that we’re going to war with all the continents that Trump banned”
“My parents say that if you want to come to this country, you shouldn’t be lazy and just do it legally. Why don’t they just do it legally?”
“What was the homework again?” (This one happens regardless if I ask if there are questions, but it reminded me that we were in a 7th grade classroom)
I tried my best to dispel the inaccuracies, and I tried to be as unbiased as I could, but I did remind my students that, as an immigrant to this country, it could be tough for me to not empathize with the plight of those who had been banned. We talked about what would cause people to move here, and that it is often not an easy decision. We talked about why some people would support a wall. We talked about why many women had taken to the streets to march.
I was amazed at how receptive and mature my students were through the whole thing. I had thought that I might have two, maybe three questions, but this conversation ended up taking 30 minutes. They were respectful to each other, even with the toughest, most controversial topics.
After the conversation wrapped up, and most of my students had shuffled off to their next class, I had one stand back, loitering by the projector. This student has been an extremely proud and loud Trump supporter, and while he had sat quietly for the class conversation, I was apprehensive about what he might bring up now that his peers couldn’t eviscerate him for it.
“Did you have another question, Jon Snow?” (Not real name, by the way.I just like using Game of Thrones references whenever possible.)
“Ms. Mocha, I thought I knew the right way to think,” he started, fiddling with an Expo marker.
“And?” I said, already imagining getting an irate email from this kid’s parent about brainwashing them to my “liberal agenda.” (It’s happened before).
“My dad is a die-hard, all the way Republican,” he said, “and I hear about all of these things from his point of view, and I thought it was the only way to think about these issues. Now that I’ve listened to everybody, and I heard your story, I think there are other ways to think about all of this.”
I thought I was going to crack a tooth from my jaw hitting the floor so hard. I managed to nod dumbly before saying, “Wow, Jon Snow. Yes, there are certainly a lot of ways to think about all of this.”
Jon Snow shrugged and heaved on his backpack. “Yeah. Thanks ,Ms. Mocha. I’ll see you tomorrow!” And with that, he meandered out of my room, leaving me with a small smile and a lot of hope.