Ray Salazar doesn’t shy away from politics in the classroom, but he says he only includes it when it fits with what he’s already teaching.
“The big question we’ve been exploring is how do our emotions affect our decision making process,” he said.
Salazar had been planning to have his AP English Language students at Hancock College Prep look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign ads and Saturday Night Live satire and discuss how they contributed to her win. But that didn’t happen.
“I did some thinking at 12:26 a.m. (Wednesday) and then put it together on my way here,” Salazar said.
He hoped the retooled lesson would still teach his students the rules of rhetoric, but also give them a chance to reflect on their own feelings. At the beginning of the class, he had every student write down the emotions they were feeling.
“Happiness? Zero. Sadness? One. Anger?” Salazar asked as hands shot up in the air.
One by one students at the predominantly Latino selective enrollment high school the Southwest Side explained what they had written down and why. Many mentioned worries about deportation. One student said she was trying really hard to understand why people supported Donald Trump.
“At first I was kind of scared, but now I feel something else,” she said. “One of my other teachers, he was talking about how this wasn’t about immigration, this wasn’t about people saying, ‘Oh we’re sending you back.' It was about jobs and the economy, and so I feel more enlightened about it, I guess.”
The class then watched both Trump’s victory speech and Clinton’s concession speech and analyzed how effective each candidate was in achieving their purpose.
One of the first things students noticed in the president-elect’s speech was his use of the word very.
“So one, two, three, four, five, six uses of very in three very short paragraphs. OK, yeah, I think that’s basic, yes it is.” Salazar said, reaffirming the class’s criticism.
“They’re actually harder graders than I am,” he noted. “Sometimes I have to push them back and say, ‘No, no we can give this person a B.’ And they’re like, ‘No, that’s a C. That’s not quality work. That’s too basic.’ ”
Salazar then zoomed forward through Trump’s speech to the part where he said, “...we will seek common ground, not hostility. Partnership, not conflict.” One girl honed in on the use of the word “we.”
“Who is he talking about,” she asked. “Like who specifically does he want to appeal to, because there’s a lot of people he’s offended.”
The class then shifted to Clinton’s concession speech, looking for ways Clinton tries to convince people to move forward. One student pointed out she urged the country to accept the results and give Trump an open mind. Another highlighted her comments about “a peaceful transfer of power.”
“It’s important for me to have them see parts of the text and point to things because that then makes the conversation a lot richer,” Salazar noted.
After class, Salazar said he hopes exercises like these will prepare his students to be able to engage in conversations with people who don’t agree with them and may never.
“You know, we always talk about persuasive writing and argumentative writing and the assumption always is that your writing is going to succeed,” Salazar said. “I think now we’re living in a world where we have to prepare students to accept that whatever they write and whatever they communicate may not be accepted and that’s ok.”
Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.