Insight/Incite: Mark Melnicove: Falmouth High School

Mark Melnicove

Insight/Incite for Spring 2017 Journal  –  Mark teaches English and Creative Writing at Falmouth High School

I feel as if I have always been teaching in dark times, no matter who has been in power in Washington, Moscow, or other capitals of the world. It has always been a few minutes to midnight for as long as I can remember, and I am nearly 65, born in the same year the first hydrogen bomb was detonated.

Arts education is important because it creates safe, inspirational environments where students are motivated to express what they observe, feel, and think. To find one’s voice, to be validated for it, is empowering, no matter one’s political, religious, ethnic, or sexual persuasion. This speaks to the need for an audience, and in schools a diverse audience—classmates and teachers—comes readymade.

The day after the election most of my students walked into my classroom upset and fearful. A minority were elated. We dropped whatever lesson plan I had prepared and just talked and tried to put a premium on listening well. We didn’t solve anything, and no minds may have been changed, but everyone had a chance to be heard. This is how we build community and trust.

Schools are one of the few institutions in our country where civil, respectful discussion is considered the norm. And art, at its best, creates new frameworks in which we can make meaning out of what is incomprehensible and/or unbearable.

That day, after our in-class discussion, I suggested everyone write a personal essay about the election results. Students were eager to do so, even though there was no grade attached to this request, because they realized their lives were at stake, and it was incumbent upon them to do something about this.

Here are excerpts from some of their responses.

The election of a new president has always been a big deal for kids; they are interested to find out more and to learn who their parents are voting for. It was safe to let Barack Obama be a role model for our children; both he and his wife appeared continuously on children’s TV shows. As an American who lived under Obama’s presidency, I am proud to call him a great president as well as a great man. Donald Trump may now be called our president, but he will never be given the title of a great, or even a good, man.

Across the country, immigrants, people of all races, members of the LGBT community, and women are fear stricken. During the race for president, Donald Trump spoke of his plans to deport people in order to make our country safer. To assume someone is jeopardizing our country based on their race is one of the most racist things a person can think, and it’s amazing how a racist is now leading the government of such a diverse country.

Deporting people, or even telling people there’s a chance they or their family members could be deported is a terrible thing. Placing that fear in the minds of mothers, fathers, friends, brothers, sisters, and children is an indescribable offense.

The president is someone we’ve taught our kids to trust, but that trust has been broken now that Donald Trump is in the picture.

Girl, 15

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The election this year was going to end badly, either way. If Clinton had won, there would have been angry people. Trump has won, and there are angry people.  There is nothing to do now except wait to see where things go from here. Complaining will not make Trump disappear or change his thoughts. A lot of Trump’s ideas still have to go through the other branches of government, and not all of them will survive. People have to have faith in our Congress and courts and believe they will do the right thing.

Boy, 15

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Our citizens argue with and rant against each other, yelling out their biased views. I find both sides charged with prejudice. Anyone who joins into the mess is as blind as the rest.

Who wants to try to look at the other side?

This election has been terrible. All the candidates are unfit to be president, in my opinion. No one seems great. No one seems presidential.  Both sides are biased, and it annoys and angers me deeply.

Girl, 16

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How on earth can Donald Trump be our president? Do you really want your children to learn from him? When other countries are SORRY for us because someone is our president, you know it is bad.

Mike Pence wants to send people to conversion therapy. HOW STUPID DO YOU HAVE TO BE TO WANT TO DO THIS? You can’t just get the gay out of someone! Being gay is not a choice!!!!!!!! Pence also wants to send women who got abortions to jail and make abortion illegal. If I am raped and become pregnant, I am going to have an abortion, whether it is legal or not. A man cannot tell me what to do with my body and my baby.

I am embarrassed to live in this country. I am not scared of Trump; I am scared of his supporters. I am afraid that people will get violent and attack people. I know I am a white girl from a middle class family who lives in a very nice town, but that doesn’t stop me from being scared of other people getting hurt. One of my best friends lives in Mexico City, and I feel sick when I think of the things Trump has said about Mexicans.

I feel as if this is a sick joke, or maybe I’m dreaming, or I have died and gone to hell (probably that one). This country is falling apart, but I think we already knew that. We were so close to making history and having the first female president, but I guess America is still sexist.  Trump is going to have the power to drop nuclear bombs and that scares me tremendously. He is already making bad relations with other countries, and he is not even the president yet!!!

If the KKK likes you, there is something wrong. I think he will only care about the rich, i.e, basically NONE of the population. He thinks climate change is something the Chinese made up, for god’s sake! Not everything’s about money and economics. Leaders of other countries are going to have no respect for our country or for him. I could definitely keep going, but I will probably have a mental breakdown if I keep thinking about it.

Girl, 15

 We overlook the perceptive voices of youth at our peril.  Very reassuring to me that they are engaged and not afraid to speak out.  I hope that being in the journal will further empower them.

Christine Higgins (Insight/Incite editor)

drawing above by Suzanna Lasker