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Why Donald Trump Jr.’s ‘loser teachers’ comment was ‘a chilling moment’ for educators around the world

Donald Trump Jr. told young conservatives they did not "have to be indoctrinated by loser teachers trying to sell them socialism" during a rally in El Paso. (Video: The Washington Post)

You may recall that President Trump held a border wall rally in El Paso on Monday and that his eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., made a speech that roused the crowd.

The president’s son drew cheers when he urged young conservatives to “bring it to your schools” (though he didn’t say exactly what “it” was) because “you don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.”

The comment drew response on social media from teachers and others who don’t see educators in the same way as he does, with the hashtag #loserteachers. For example:

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In this post, three teachers explain why Trump Jr.'s comment was more than simply mean.

Jelmer Evers of the Netherlands, Michael Soskil of the United States and Armand Doucet of Canada were featured authors in the 2018 book “Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the Precipice.”

Evers is also the author of “Flip the System: Changing Education From the Ground Up.” Soskil was the 2017-18 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. Doucet was a recipient of Canada’s teachers award and is the author of “Teaching Life: Our Calling, Our Choices, Our Challenges.”

By Jelmer Evers, Michael Soskil and Armand Doucet

“You know what I love? I love seeing some young conservatives because I know it’s not easy. (Crowd applauds and shouts.) Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it. Because you can think for yourselves. They can’t.” (Crowd applauds and shouts again.) – Donald Trump Jr. in Texas on Feb. 11, 2019

For teachers around the globe, this was a chilling moment.

In a stadium filled with people chanting “USA, USA,” the son of the president of the United States called for hostility toward teachers because of their so-called political leanings. This is a message you would expect in an authoritarian regime, not at a rally for the U.S. president.

As teachers, we come from varied backgrounds and political leanings, but there is an undeniable core to who we are and what we stand for. Teachers nurture, care and protect students. Teachers champion the pursuit of knowledge.

By working daily with young people, teachers are the stewards of the future. Whether Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, right, left, center, blue or red — seeing and reinforcing the value of a teacher should be a national pillar that rises high above partisan politics and cheap applause.

Throughout history, schools and teachers have always been among the first to be targeted by authoritarian regimes and extremists. Independent thinking, creativity, compassion and curiosity are threats to dogmatic beliefs and rule.

Many of our colleagues in countries ravaged by war or in shackled societies teach in difficult circumstances. They are often ruthlessly persecuted and even killed for providing a well-balanced education to children, which should be a basic human right.

Echoes of these authoritarian practices are increasingly being heard in democratic countries as well. In Germany, the radical right party Alternative for Germany has launched a website where students and parents can report “left-wing teachers.”

In the Netherlands, right-wing parliamentarians have called on students to out their socialist teachers because they were indoctrinating their students in “climate change propaganda.”

In Canada, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has accused student unions of “crazy Marxist nonsense” and has raised alarms by throwing out one of the most progressive sex education curriculums, which dealt with topics from consent, to gender identity to “sexting” in the age of social media.

In Hungary, textbooks are censored to follow the government’s nationalistic agenda. After years of denouncing teachers and schools, President Jair Bolsonaro’s first education policy in Brazil is to go after the “Marxist” curriculums, which bars teachers talking about feminism and LGBTQ issues.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has fired thousands of teachers. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte is attacking teacher unions.

Research by the United Nations has shown that the globe is spinning toward a dramatic teacher shortage, with analysts predicting a shortage of 69 million teachers by 2030. This is the crisis we should be talking about.

We’ve seen overcrowded classrooms, long working hours, lack of professional development, burn out, low salaries, terrible retention rates and teachers across the United States striking to demand better teaching and learning conditions.

How does Donald Trump Jr.’s description of teachers as “losers” and the encouragement of hostility toward us solve these problems? How does it ignite passion in a new generation to pursue the world’s most important profession?

If we can be accused of anything, it is that we are on the front line of democracy. Education reformer John Dewey famously said, “Democracy has to be born again each generation and education is its midwife.”

As members of a global profession, we reject the narrowing of the mind and we stand by our colleagues defending academic freedom. We call upon parents, teachers and politicians to stand with us. Our academic freedom is what allows our democracies to remain strong.