The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Teachers are expected to remain politically neutral. These Teachers of the Year say they can’t.

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 13. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Teachers are often expected to remain politically neutral in class, not letting their students know which candidate they support or where they stand on controversial issues.

Part of the thinking behind this position is that students could be insulted or intimidated from expressing contrary thoughts. Some parents fear that teachers could “indoctrinate” students by expressing their own views in class. As a result, many teachers are hesitant to — and often are expected not to — reveal political views.

In the unprecedented 2016 presidential election, some teachers are casting aside their neutrality to speak their mind. They say the stakes are too high in this election to stay quiet.

They include 10 former state and national Teachers of the Year, who have written an open letter explaining why they are taking sides — in public — in this race. Here’s the letter, and you can see who signed it at the end:

We are teachers. We teach children to become better writers, readers, scientists, mathematicians, and thinkers, so they can go on to live the lives they dream. We also help children become good human beings — to work hard, to do the right thing, and above all else, to be kind to one another.
We are teachers. We are supposed to remain politically neutral. For valid reasons, we don’t want to offend our students, colleagues or community members. But there are times when a moral imperative outweighs traditional social norms. There are times when silence is the voice of complicity. This year’s presidential election is one such time.
As teachers, we welcome all children into our classrooms, regardless of the color of their skin, how much money their parents make, or their religious beliefs. That notion of equality is at the heart of what it means to be an American.
We believe that Donald Trump is a danger to our society in general and to our students in particular. His words and actions have shown a consistent disdain for human dignity. His behavior goes against everything we teach the children in our care.
We teach children that girls are just as smart, capable, and worthy of respect as boys. Donald Trump has mocked women in myriad ways, including his post-debate tirades against Alicia Machado, his off-color innuendo about FOX host Megyn Kelly, and his predatory boasts about groping.
We teach children that the content of their character, not the color of their skin, determines their worth. Donald Trump has attacked Latinos, Muslims, and African-Americans. He has described Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” called for an immigration ban based entirely on refugees’ religious beliefs, and  questioned our first Black president’s citizenship long after it became clear that Obama is indeed American.
The fear felt by people of color, including young children and their families, is real. An eight-year old Mexican-American girl came up to her teacher, her eyes wide and her expression solemn. She asked: “Mr. Minkel, are you scared of Donald Trump? I am very afraid of him.”
An Indian-American woman told her former teacher:  “Mr. O, my 9 year-old came home upset and asked me if we will have to live on the other side of the wall—because that’s where brown people will have to live—and whether I will still be her mom if Trump wins.”
We teach children to stand up for what is right when they see someone acting cruelly or disrespectfully toward others. At Donald Trump’s rallies, he has tolerated and even egged on chants like “Build a wall — kill them all!” He has shown a willingness to accept support from hate groups in our country, and he has made it acceptable to voice and act on that hate.
The impact on our students was seen during a high school game in Indiana where white students chanted “Trump!” and “Build the wall!” at a rival team whose players were primarily Hispanic.
Words matter. So do actions. Even when children don’t listen to what we say, they pay very careful attention to what we do.
Donald Trump has mocked and mimicked the disability of a reporter — a form of bullying that no teacher would accept. He has coyly urged the assassination of his rival. He has disrespected the sacrifice of a military family who lost their son. He has cloaked hatred and discrimination, the most un-American of values, in a false patriotism. His vision of America is not a unified country based on common values; rather it is a separate and unequal country based on race, gender, ethnicity and religion. We believe the threat posed by Mr. Trump is too glaring to ignore.
Children are watching. They are listening. They are learning from the example we set as their parents and teachers—not only from what we say and do, but from what we accept when it comes to the words and actions of others. We have to show them that hatred, sexism, racism, disrespect, and threats of physical violence are not okay. They’re unacceptable at any age — for a kindergartener, a high school student, or a presidential candidate.
As teachers, we strongly oppose Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. Our students and our country deserve better. In our two-party electoral system, that means we must support Hillary Clinton, the only other candidate with a legitimate shot to beat him. She isn’t perfect, but we believe Clinton has the temperament and requisite skills to do the job.
Most importantly, we believe she will uphold the American values of civility, equality and dignity for all. Those values speak to our better angels and give hope to each new generation, including the youngest citizens who walk through our classroom doors each day.
Richard Ognibene, 2008 New York Teacher of the Year
Justin Minkel, 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year
Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year and Texas Teacher of the Year
James Ford, 2015 North Carolina Teacher of the Year
Mohsen Ghafarri, 2015 Utah Teacher of the Year
Jemelleh Coes, 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year
Pamela Cort, 2013 New Mexico Teacher of the Year
Megan Allen, 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year
Rich Mayorga, 2003 Arizona Teacher of the Year
Dr. Patricia Jordan, 1993 New York Teacher of the Year