Student anxiety and hostility at public high schools have worsened since Donald Trump became president, according to a study. More than half of the 1,535 teachers who responded to a survey claimed to see more students than ever with “high levels of stress and anxiety” between January and May of this year.
The study was conducted by UCLA’s director of the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access. The title of the institute suggests to me that the study was looking for the result it found.
Indeed, there are some obvious problems with the study. First, more than 10,000 teachers were invited to respond. Only about 15 percent did. One suspects that the teachers who responded were among the most likely to tell the researchers that student stress is rising under Trump. One suspects that many of these teachers, if asked, would report that mildew in their classroom has increased since Trump became president.
Second, there’s little doubt that leftists, including those who teach high school, are more stressed under Trump than they were under Obama, as they should be. Thus, it’s quite possible that the teachers who told the researchers their students have become more stressed are projecting they stress they feel onto students — a far less politically engaged cohort.
Third, I can’t tell from the report on the study how widespread this supposed new increase in stress is. If only illegal immigrants (about whom more later) are feeling heightened stress, that would be consistent with the study’s conclusion that more students than ever before feel high levels of stress and anxiety.
Fourth, if high schools are feeling more stress since Trump became president, how much of this is due to efforts by the left, including leftist teachers, to make them fearful? If students keep hearing people, including their teachers, say that a dangerous racist now occupies the White House, they may well feel extra stress. But unless the president actually is a dangerous racist, blame for any increased stress resides with those, including teachers, who peddle this claim.
Teachers reported to UCLA that student learning is adversely affected by the stress Trump supposedly has brought on. If this is true, and I very much doubt it is except in rare cases, how pathetic! If American high school students are too soft to learn in class because the president makes them nervous, our country doesn’t have much of a future. Meanwhile, perhaps the teachers who are freaking out should consider lowering the temperature so their snowflake students can learn.
The study purports to tell us not just about student stress, but also, inevitably, about the environment for minority students under Trump. It finds that a growing number of schools, especially predominantly white ones, have become (in the words of the Washington Post story about the study) “hostile environments for racial and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.”
What exactly is meant by “hostile environment” in this context, I cannot tell. But the problems with the study that I have discussed above — e.g., self-selection and bias — apply to this finding.
The study found that the policy issue of most concern to students is immigration, including the possible deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. One teacher/coach reported that some of his student athletes live in “survival mode,” never knowing if they will be deported.
The facts on the ground do not support such hysteria. However, it’s easy to believe the so-called Dreamers are more stressed under the Trump administration than they were in the last few years of the Obama administration following the DACA executive order. But during most of the Obama years and the years before that, Dreamers were subject to deportation. Were they not highly stressed then?
Whatever stress students may be feeling is due to the demise of the DACA executive order flows from their illegal status and the unwillingness of Congress, so far, to change that status. Under our Constitution, the president lacks the power to make this change. We can’t ignore the Constitution just to spare Dreamers and their friends from stress.
Moreover, the “stress” argument shows why it is important to couple any relief for Dreamers with stepped up enforcement of our immigration laws. We may not want Dreamers to feel stress, but neither, as a general matter, should we want illegal immigrants and those thinking about coming here illegally to feel sanguine.
Relief for Dreamers might well encourage a wave of illegal immigration by parents hoping to see their children one day receive the same kind of relief. That relief should not be granted in the first instance without new measures to combat illegal immigration.