“Don’t laugh at what you don’t understand.”
Okay, so the words sound a bit harsh, but I promise you that my tone of voice and facial expression clearly communicated warmth, love, and kindness. And yes, I did say this to my students. Because my students needed to hear it.
I have avoided talking about the American election with my Korean high schoolers for most of the past few months. It didn’t seem appropriate or even remotely related to what I was teaching. So I just steered away from the topic.
But then we began a culture exchange, where they communicate by video with Americans attending high school in the U.S., and one by one my students were shocked to discover that many of these American young people were Trump supporters. Or at least had parents who were voting for Trump.
It shocked them because Trump was quite literally the butt of every joke to them. They openly mocked him and dismissed him as a quack. I don’t think they actually understood that he was a real person with real people behind him. They disliked him because of the threats he made to Korea, but they never took him seriously. Nobody that I have spoken to in Korea took him seriously. Adults included.
So I dedicated an entire class period to talk about it with my students on Monday, the day before the election. At the time, I never imagined that Trump would actually win and that this might be a beneficial experience for them to remember over the next four years. I just wanted to help them get along with their new American friends.
“You might disagree with Trump voters,” I said, “But don’t laugh. Understand, instead.”
I’m fairly certain at least some of my students thought I was a Trump supporter by the end of that class. I had them watch and read the transcript of this video, write down two to three genuine questions they had about this new information, and then engage in small group discussions with their peers. We talked about the shrinking middle class and the overburdened working class, the outsourcing of labor, and the growing number of people that work two to three jobs just to survive. We talked about ethnic tension and changing demographics. About the rich and powerful and their distance from everyday Americans.
“These are real problems in America right now,” I said. “And Trump? He’s the only one saying he will fix it.”
For many of my students, something seemed to click when I said that. To my dismay, some of them declared they sided with Trump! Others felt that something ought to be done, but not the way Trump would do it.
In the end, we took the ISideWith quiz online as a class, which settled for most of them that they would all vote third party. A simple solution. But then again…most Americans have rejected the idea.
Most of my students left class that day with a newfound appreciation for the complexity of political opinion, even though most of them remain staunchly opposed to Trump (as evidence: the picture above, taken during class today). But at least they don’t laugh about it anymore.
You can’t laugh when you understand. You can only nod your head in thoughtful silence.