And probably continuing until now. Is that not shocking? Well, anyway, hate was going on the upswing when Obama was president – but maybe it was just noticed less at the time.
“Is it okay to burn Jews?”
This was the question Hillary Tulley, a public-school science teacher in Skokie, Illinois, recently overheard students in her ninth-grade science class discussing. One student apparently thought that Jews deserve to burn; the other two disagreed. “I’ve been a teacher for 24 years,” Tulley says, “and I’ve never heard that kind of talk before.”
Some 2,000 miles away in a white suburban community in Washington State, Kyrian Smith caught her sixth-grade students engaging in similarly hate-filled speech, although in this instance they chose to target Muslims and students of color.
“White students said in class that they were scared of brown people and thought all Muslims should be removed from the country,” she says. “The two Muslim students were bullied and called ISIS fighters. My black students were being called n-words.” As one of two black children at her own school when she was growing up, Smith says she knew what the targeted kids were experiencing.
Meanwhile, back East, even proudly liberal enclaves like Newton, Massachusetts, have been convulsed by bias eruptions. Michael Zilles, president of the Newton Teachers Association, says the district’s schools have been rocked by instances of anti-Semitic graffiti, bigoted comments directed to an African-American student group, and a Confederate Flag – “here in Massachusetts!”
“We have had more racial incidents in the last 12 months than there have been in years,” he says.
Across the country, educators are reporting a disturbing surge in hate-laced bullying among students of all ages, from the youngest elementary-school tykes to the most jaded high-school seniors. While bullying has a long and sordid history in American classrooms, the current surge is notable both for the similarity of its targets – Muslim students, immigrants and children of immigrants, children of color, girls, Jews – and the language used against them.
And educators have developed a strong theory as to the cause: Donald Trump and the degraded discourse of this election season.
“It’s something I’ve just started to notice lately, and I think that occurs in part because of what they’re hearing in their homes, on TV, and from Trump,” says Richard Peacock, a writing instructor in Orlando, Florida, who has seen an increase in expressions of bias against immigrants, Latinos, and Muslims in some of his students’ essays. “They’ll treat Americans of Latino descent as immigrants even when they’re not, or conflate Puerto Ricans with Mexicans, or express the idea that all Muslims are radicals,” he says.