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Las Vegas Teachers: How Election 2016 Affects The Classroom

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With such divisiveness this election season, how can teachers talk to students about politics and keep it civil?

Caucuses, primaries, delegates, super delegates -- the election process can be confusing to almost anyone. So what if you’re a kid? 

You have to be 18 to vote of course, but that’s why many teachers choose to teach about how elections work starting in the school-age years. 

And it’s especially helpful if it happens to be a presidential election year. 

….or is it? 

Because of the polarizing nature of the 2016 presidential election, more and more teachers are reporting a hesitation to teach about the election at all. 

What’s more, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center study, teachers across the country are reporting an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and an increase in uncivil political discourse. 

Today, about 1 in 5 Nevadans were born outside of the country, and the region boasts the highest share of undocumented immigrants of any state. Las Vegas is a majority-minority city, and subsequently, so are its schools. 

So how are local teachers handling this election cycle, when they likely have strong opinions themselves, to teach elections, current events and politics to their students? 

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Kaaveh Akbari teaches 12th grade government classes at Green Valley High School. He said his students are a lot more engaged this election season than in years past.

But, he said he is cautious about telling his students his opinions until the end of the year.

"I don't want them to take my teachings with a grain of salt," Akbari said, "I want them to have just an open mind to what I have to say and so yes I am very careful about how I present things."

Reuben D'Silva is a 10th grade world history teacher at Rancho High School. Normally, he keeps his political opinions and most of his personal life to himself. This year was a little different, however, because D'Silva himself is running for office.

D'Silva is a candidate for Congressional District 1, a seat currently held by Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV).

D'Silva said his students have volunteered with the campaign and have learned what it takes to run a grassroots campaign. 

"It's been a school-wide process," D'Silva said, "You can see how it's growing. It has really gotten them involved."

He said the canvassing of neighborhoods and envelope stuffing sessions have turned into social occasions for many of his students.

Jessica Kennedy teaches graphic design at Rancho High School. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that she has used politics to bring her students together and reach students.

Kennedy said she was careful at the beginning of the year to make sure she understood where the students were coming from.

"I approach everything with kid gloves to start to kind of get a feel for what's going on with my students," she said.

Akbari said in his government classes he talks to students about the media and it function in politics. He hopes to make them smarter consumers of media. 

"We'll do a lesson about propaganda and things like that, but at the end of the day, they have to assess on their own what's real and what's not," he said. 

Akbari said that approach gets students to really dig into where their information is coming from and what biases those sources might have. 

D'Silva got around the source problem by inviting representatives from campaigns to his class so students could hear directly from the campaigns about their candidates stance on issues.

"It was, I think, a great opportunity for these students to hear from these campaigns as opposed to just a teacher talking about or having a YouTube video," he said.

As for the fear that teachers around the country have said they've noticed in children of color in this election cycle, D'Silva said he has noticed it in many of his students. They are worried he said that they or their families could be deported, depending on who is elected.

Akbari said a student in his class admitted he was in the country illegally, which he said for some students put a real person to the rhetoric. 

All the teachers said that is really what they are looking for when they teach politics to their students, understanding of another persons point of view.

"At the end of the day, I just want the kids to have the perspective," Akbari said, "I don't care how they vote or what they believe in as long as they understand their own beliefs and why someone else might feel differently than them."

Kennedy agreed that her goal is to build good citizens.

"If we don't come together and gain better understanding as human beings then we're completely lost as a society and that's really what I want my students to get out of my classes," she said.

For D'Silva, he wants his students to know they have the power to make changes, if they become engaged and use that power.

"Empowerment is important," he said, "You can make a difference. We come together as individuals, individual citizens, and through participating we can have our voice heard."

Guests

Kaaveh Akbari, Green Valley High School, 12th grade government; Reuben D’Silva, Rancho High School, 10th grade world history; Jessica Kennedy, Rancho High School, graphic design teacher  

 

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