Dear Teachers: It’s Time to Dump the Trump Effect
Teachers, if you’ve ever taught the Holocaust certain that you’d stand on the right side of history, now is your chance to prove it.
On the morning after the election, a group of white children in Michigan formed a human wall to block students of color from reaching their classes. As if our marginalized students didn’t already face disproportionate barriers to learning, schools across the country are now experiencing a surge in hate speech and acts. But for teachers, this hostile climate cannot be about politics: it’s about human rights and decency. While the best time for teachers and administrators to denounce exclusion and hatred may be before an incident occurs, the second-best time is now.
The election clearly signals that specific groups of students are unwelcome in their schools. Now, our students also fear a parent’s deportation or the denial of asylum. Their families fear religious persecution and the real risk of bodily harm. With these added adverse experiences, their education is on the line more than ever.
We aren’t permitted to have an opinion about whether all students deserve an equal learning environment.
If you believe your school is safe from “the Trump effect,” reflect on the naiveté that created conditions in which a Trump presidency could occur at all. If polls could misinterpret the national appetite for exclusion and hatred, we are certainly misreading our schools — whether or not they have heterogeneous student bodies. What our students learn will define what they become.
Your schools may silence you in the name of political neutrality, but hatred isn’t politics: it’s a vice. We aren’t permitted to have an opinion about whether all students deserve an equal learning environment. They just do. And we aren’t permitted to have an opinion about whether all students are equally valuable. They simply are.
Miss this moment, and the generation with which we are entrusted may fall prey to the same enmity in which we find ourselves. You are the vanguard of the future. In the moral vacuum following the election’s results, you get to decide if you accept into your classroom the depths of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia that your students know exist. You get to decide how young learners will develop today and how they will inherit the earth.
Below are five ways to follow up your declaration with action.
Give your students the opportunity to set specific classroom norms with you.
People dislike violating the standards they set for themselves. Thus, students will feel more ownership for classroom norms that they draft than for rules imposed upon them. Specify what students mean by “respect” or “kindness” so that they know that, for example, jokes about racial violence or ableist statements are violations of those norms.
Teach history fully and correctly. American textbooks are inextricable from American nationalism.
Challenge your textbook when it showers Christopher Columbus with praise for his intrepid, entrepreneurial spirit. Challenge your textbook when it avoids the complicated relationship between suffragists and abolitionists. Supplement history textbooks with research that challenges their claims.
Read contextualized primary documents from individuals underrepresented in our academic canon so students can practice empathy.
Integrate history or interviews with Black artists into music lessons about the Jazz Age. Read a poet’s letters to understand the context of her writing. Review newspaper articles about the Scopes Trial while teaching evolution.
Recognize intrinsic biases in your own classroom practices, and be a co-learner with your students.
Assess if your math problems about families going to the grocery store are overtly hetero-normative, if you associate scientists with male pronouns, or if you associate homemakers with female pronouns.
Highlight and encourage student behavior that positively demonstrates civic engagement.
Acknowledge students when they model inclusion, denounce hatred, and participate in the creation of civil society. You can increase students’ intrinsic motivation through positive reinforcement and by explaining why such actions result in a better classroom community.