One of my students from Iraq used to wear a hijab. A few days after the Paris attacks, she stopped wearing it and she told me her Mother made her take it off because her Mother was afraid she would get killed. She said she still wanted to wear it. This made me cry.
My students are who inspired me to teach this lesson again. I debated it a lot in my mind and did some soul searching beforehand. Am I opening a can of worms? Will our posters be censored? Should we talk about or avoid religion and politics? But isn't the personal the political? I take very seriously not imposing my own beliefs on them and not being specific, but I do work very hard to create a classroom culture of respect, safety, and responsibility. We engage in Socratic dialogue daily and I overheard students talking about the election, in particular their concerns regarding comments made by Donald Trump. I am so proud that they have been able to discuss in a mature manner and respect each other's opinions.
For our project, we explored the history of political art and graphic design, looked at Shepard Fairey's Obama "Hope" poster, and students created their own posters based on their issues "If I Ran For President." We held a mock election in class. I turned one of my closets into a voting booth and had the students paint the butcher paper covering the door. I had students create and paint a ballot box. Some of them got really into it and offered to work "security" to help make sure only one person at a time was allowed in the booth.
I took photos documenting my own voting journey during the Presidential primary, how I waited in line 2 hours but it was worth every minute, how I was in between two other educators and got to know them, how I did a lot of research on the other things on my ballot but there was still some information I didn't know. I shared with them that it takes time to be an informed citizen. The people working the polls were kind and let me keep a couple dozen stickers to share with students and gave me flyers for both the Democratic and Republican county conventions.
I worked very hard to remain neutral when they asked me questions since they really want to know who I voted for but I explained that as their teacher I am in a position of power and do not want to influence their opinion. I strongly encouraged them to use time inside and outside of class to research the candidates themselves and make up their own minds. The closest answer I gave them was to say "I think you know me pretty well by now to figure out where I stand. How much emphasis have I put on respect this year? personal accountability? kindness? Reflect on the variety of cultures and countries we have "visited" and learned about and created artwork inspired by. Look around at your fellow students in the classroom and reflect on their backgrounds. Am I not their teacher, too?"
I was so very moved at the issues that kept coming up over and over again: immigration and not separating families with deportation, equal rights for all genders, a high amount of LGBTQ rights and freedom to marry, ending racism, stopping war and world peace, stopping bullying, helping the homeless: this is their reality. They have passion and compassion and conviction.
I strongly urged them that if they are still living here when they are 18, are citizens, they should register to vote. I told them they could use class time to research how to become a citizen as well.
The facts are that they overwhelmingly voted Democratically with about 75 votes for Hillary Clinton and 55 votes for Bernie Sanders. Trump and Cruz were a tie at 8 votes each Rubio had a few, and Kasich had none.
Here are some samples of the posters they came up with. I had no idea some of these thoughts were going on in their head and in their hearts. I am grateful I got to learn more about them through their art.
This one with the women's shelter, made me cry. There is a story there.
This girl is very quiet, but apparently does have a lot to say.