Students experiencing more stress in Trump era, UCLA study finds

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A report released by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access found that the tone of political discourse during the Trump administration has increased the amount of anxiety, stress, polarization and incivility in the nation’s public school classrooms.

In May, researchers from the institute asked public school teachers from around the U.S. to describe changes they’ve seen in their school climate since the presidential election.

A total of 1,535 teachers at 333 public high school responded to the survey, with 848 providing additional written responses.  The institute also conducted 35 follow-up interviews with social studies and English teachers from geographically and demographically diverse schools.

Titled “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools,” the report found that more than half of students are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety and that more than three-quarters are concerned about their own well-being or the well-being of a family member.

In addition, nearly half, 44.3 percent, of teachers reported that students’ concerns about one or more “hot-button policy issues” impacted their learning, their ability to focus and their attendance.

“Many students were very stressed and worried after the election. They vocalized their worries over family members’ immigration status and healthcare, as well as LGBT rights,” a Pennsylvania teacher stated in the report.

The report also found that more than 20 percent of teachers reported heightened polarization on campus, and more than a quarter of teachers, 27.7 percent, reported an increase in students making derogatory remarks about other groups during class discussions.

“I had never seen behavior this brash,” said Nicole Morris, a Utah social studies teacher quotes in the report.  “I saw this dynamic happening on the national level, and was amazed to see such a mirror of the same thing with 14 to 16 year olds.” – Nicole Morris, social studies teacher in Utah

Nearly all, 91.6 percent, of the teachers surveyed agreed that elected leaders should “encourage and model civil exchange and greater understanding across lines of difference” and nearly three-quarters, 72.3 percent, agreed that school leadership should provide more guidance and professional development opportunities on how to promote civil exchange across lines of difference.

However, a positive note from the study found that the election of Donald Trump “generated far greater student interest in national politics and related issues,” with 21.2 percent of teachers reporting an increase in students participating in extracurricular clubs that encourage to speak out.

In addition, nearly a quarter, 24.4 percent, of teachers said that student participation in acts of kindness and community/bridge building had increased since last year.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Stress and concerns with welfare have increased, particularly in schools enrolling few White students.
  • Polarization, incivility, and reliance on unsubstantiated sources have risen, particularly in predominantly White schools.
  • A growing number of schools, particularly predominantly White schools, became hostile environments for racial and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.
  • While some school leaders avoided issues related to the political environment, others moved proactively to create a tolerant and respectful school culture.  When leaders did not act, student behavior grew dramatically worse.
  • As the national political environment has become more threatening, bellicose, and uncivil, more young people are subject to adverse socio-emotional and academic consequences.  These changes also undercut the democratic purposes of public education.
  • Educators can mitigate some of these challenges, but they need more support.  Ultimately, political leaders need to address the underlying causes of campus incivility and stress.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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