Political rhetoric in the run-up to Election Day grew so heated and divisive at a New York elementary school that administrators decided to call off the traditional mock election and replace it with a poll about something slightly less controversial: school lunches.
After being exposed to racially charged and lewd comments related to the presidential campaign via news media, friends, and family, students at Jericho Elementary School in Centereach on Long Island were heard reciting offensive talking points and clashing about very adult subject matter during the school day, Principal Glen Rogers said.
"Children in the cafeteria would bring up things about minorities and the voting and the candidates," Mr. Rogers told ABC 7 in New York. "And there were some negative things said."
The cancellation highlights the manner in which polarizing politics can trickle down, through families, media, and other cultural institutions, into the social realities of children. What's more, some schools have further affected their students' day-to-day lives by canceling classes on Nov. 8, as a cautionary hedge against the possibility of unrest. These realities reflect, perhaps, a broader fatigue that has some calling for Americans to hit a reset button and make the Thanksgiving holiday one of healing and civility.
In the meantime, educators are trying their best to salvage a civics lesson out of the current political milieu. Kate McDonald, a Jericho teacher, said her students would select their own class president by focusing on qualifications, not controversies.
"So they're taking some of the highlights that they learned from the candidates out there now, the positive ones, and trying to implement them into the classroom," Ms. McDonald told ABC 7.
And despite the cancellation in New York, more than 100,000 students between the ages of 13 and 19 in all 50 states took part in a separate mock election last month. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump won that contest over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but more than 20 percent of the students cast their non-binding ballots for third-party candidates.
Jeffrey Collins, a vice president of the After School program that conducted the mock election, told CNN that the surprisingly high support for Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Dr. Jill Stein could be attributed to the fact that teens "prefer outsiders" and tend to see Mrs. Clinton as part of the status quo.
High school and college students from 19 states who competed in a contest sponsored by the American Statistical Association, however, predicted that Clinton would win the presidency. Based on analyses of real-world polling, 97 percent of participants predicted a Democratic victory.
Molly Joll, an eighth-grade social studies teachers in Valparaiso, Ind., told the Post-Tribune that her students had successfully taken an issues-focused approach to their mock election. The lesson has been indispensable, especially in a state where voter participation is particularly low during non-presidential election years.
"It takes some of the fear away from the process," Ms. Joll said, adding that educators should encourage students to practice using their own political voice.
"They need to engage them because they might not think their vote matters, but it does," she said.