My conversations with a half dozen seven and eight year-olds – thirty-six hours after our nation and the world were confronted with the reality of “President Donald J. Trump” – revealed a disturbing consequence of the 2016 Presidential election.
It was about a month ago that I started tutoring second graders in a City of Buffalo elementary school. An important part of the school’s mission statement is “to promote understanding and tolerance among [Buffalo’s] diverse ethnic, racial and religious groups.”
My nine “tutees” – bright and curious children whose reading skills are a bit behind the national norm for their grade level – are wonderfully diverse (and, so young and vulnerable). The twice-a-week sessions I have with these energetic second graders – in groups of three – have become progressively more comfortable and rewarding.
And it seems that the time and effort this 66-year-old white male has invested in getting to know each child has helped form a sense of trust between tutor and tutees. When I asked each group this past Thursday – Nov. 10th – if anything important had happened on Tuesday, a school holiday, the unfiltered responses I received showed just how much the outside world had penetrated the lives of these innocent 7 and 8-year-olds.
Without any hesitance, an always-cheerful Muslim boy – who had referred to himself as “white” when he was asked a month ago to describe himself – exclaimed: “We all wanted the girl to win. Mr. Trump doesn’t like Muslims. We might all have to move.”
A shy, delicate African-American girl – who has grown more confident in her reading skills with each passing week – frowned and said: “My mother is sad. She voted for Hillary, and now she’s worried.”
A Muslim boy, who told me on my first day at Waterfront that his parents were from Africa, excitedly said: “We are all afraid we’ll have to move. Mr. Arthur, will you have to move?” I was touched by his concern. [Just four short weeks ago he appeared nervous about having to sit next to this stranger.] I told him that I didn’t plan on moving, but, if I did, it would be voluntary. [The group then talked about the meaning of the word “voluntary.”]
The one Muslin girl in my three groups who wears traditional Islamic clothing – a hijab – got up from her seat and emotionally explained that everyone she knew was afraid they would have to go back to Africa: “That’s where he [President-elect Trump] wants to send all Muslims.”
But the anxiety created by this week’s election results was not limited to the Muslim and African-American children I’ve gotten to know and admire the past several weeks. The sole white girl among my tutees – who has twice mentioned how her favorite weekend activity is going to church – had what was perhaps the most sobering comment about the election results: “My mother thinks that this will make her life even harder. And it’s already very hard.”
I don’t have anything profound to say about the results of the 2016 Presidential election. Or the fears and concerns expressed by these lovely children. I am trying not to automatically reach the conclusion that Mr. Trump’s ascendancy to the Presidency is “An American Tragedy.” And I do want to find a way to grit my teeth and give President Trump a chance.
But we adults must search for ways to reassure “my” [“our”!] second graders that our divided nation has the same goal as their elementary school – “to promote understanding and tolerance among its diverse ethnic, racial and religious groups.” And we must all strive to show by our words and actions that we respect each and every human being, no matter the gender, age, race, religion (or, absence thereof), sexual identity, education level, or political persuasion.
With All Due Respect,
P.S. By the way, with all three groups on Thursday, these resilient youngsters were able to quickly transition from our election-related discussion to a fun time using an ink pad and rubber stamps to learn about “middle sounds” and rhyming words.