Educators can’t get a break.
Teachers are routinely blamed for poor student achievement — even when kids come to school in no condition to learn — and for being greedy, with their outlandish desire for adequate pay and collective bargaining rights so they can’t be fired without cause. School leaders are accused of being tradition-bound and motivated too much by a desire to maintain the status quo (and their jobs).
Now there’s something new: Educators are being accused of fanning fear of Donald Trump. As if Trump hadn’t scared a lot of kids with his own rhetoric about, for example, tossing out millions of undocumented immigrants, banning Muslims from entering the country and mocking a reporter with a disability. As if many teachers didn’t confront kids coming to class already crying.
A piece in USA Today, written by two respected conservatives, Frederick Hess and Chester Finn, titled “Stop Teaching Anti-Trump Bias,” admonished educators for sowing fear among students and mourning the loss of Hillary Clinton. Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and Finn is a senior fellow and president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. They noted in their opinion piece that many messages have been sent out by schools and universities trying to address student fears and said in part:
Had Hillary Clinton won the bitter contest, would any of this have still been deemed necessary by so many educators? Of course not.
We’re no fans of the president-elect, whose behavior has frequently been appalling, whose policy ignorance is vast, and who appears to lack any coherent philosophy of government. That said, we are astonished that so many educators, schools and colleges chose to treat his election as reason to alarm their students and to suggest that only a Democratic victory would have aligned with the nation’s values.
Although some educators may have been lamenting the Clinton loss and the Trump victory, there is no evidence that “so many educators, schools and colleges” are reacting to the election because they are sore losers, or are teaching “anti-Trump bias.” Is talking to students about what Trump himself has said teaching “anti-Trump bias?”
The Southern Poverty Law Center documented more than 200 incidents of intimidation and harassment based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual identity in the three days after the presidential election — not the usual response. Richard Cohen, the law center’s president, told USA Today that the level of hate crimes immediately after the election may be worse than what occurred right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Violent acts of intimidation are, of course, nothing new. The FBI said that of the hate crimes reported in 2015, most were motivated by a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, while about the same percentage was noted for acts motivated by religious bias and a sexual orientation or gender-identity bias. Blacks were mostly the victims of race bias, and Jews of religious bias, the report said. And it is true that many of these offenses — including acts against black, Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ students — have gone without comment from school and district leaders. But that doesn’t mean that educators were right to have kept quiet in the past — and it doesn’t mean that they are now speaking up about student fears simply because Clinton lost.
Would some kids have been upset if Clinton had won? Sure. But there is no way to get around the fact that Trump caused fear in a lot of American kids by promising to deport millions of people (far more than the Obama administration, which has itself been quite busy on that front), banning Muslims from entering the country, making fun of a reporter with disabilities or bragging about assaulting women. Clinton just didn’t do that, like her or not.
That’s why, for example, Tom Torlakson, California’s state superintendent of public instruction, released a statement a few days after the election reassuring California public school students from kindergarten through grade 12 that they are all safe from discrimination and bullying:
I know that the outcome of the recent presidential election has caused deep concern among many students and their families. The nation maintains a strong tradition for the peaceful transition of power. And I want to let all of California’s 6.2 million public school students know that keeping them safe from discrimination and bullying at our great state’s 11,000 public schools is a top priority. …
And I want to tell young women and girls that they will always be safe, be respected, and be protected at school. As the proud father of two daughters, I know that girls can achieve anything, succeed at anything they choose, and earn the respect that they deserve every day at school, in the workplace, and in our communities. California moves forward, not back.
He didn’t write that because Clinton lost. He wrote it because students were feeling vulnerable because of what Trump himself had said.
In Utah, Gov. Gary R. Herbert and the state schools superintendent, Sydnee Dickson, issued a joint statement condemning harassment of any students, saying in part:
Over the past three days, we have received numerous reports of students throughout Utah being targets of harassment and bullying in our schools. Regardless of the motivation, we do not condone this type of behavior.
Students should feel safe in school. Harassment of any kind is not to be tolerated. These reported actions go strongly against American principles. Any form of bullying is inappropriate and can be extremely detrimental to the quality education Utah espouses. Every report of this type of behavior should be taken seriously by educators and parents.
They didn’t write that because a Democrat didn’t win, but because Trump’s campaign rhetoric caused many students to fear for their safety.
Larry Ferlazzo, an award-winning longtime educator who teaches English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, took issue with Hess and Finn, writing on his blog a post titled, “No, Most Educators Are Not ‘Fueling Student Anxieties’ — Trump Is Handling That on His Own.” He said in part:
I’m sure some teachers — on both sides — have not handled this past week as well as they should have done. However, I’m equally sure that thousands have done a good job, using lessons like the ones found at The Best Posts & Articles On How To Teach “Controversial” Topics and at the bottom of The Best Sites To Learn About The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, including the ones I did in my own classroom.
Educators get blamed for enough problems that we don’t cause — let’s not add another one to the list.
Kevin Carey, director of the education policy program at the nonprofit New America Foundation in Washington, also wrote a piece in defense of educators. He said that children aren’t afraid of Trump because he is ignorant about policy, he lacks a coherent philosophy of government and his behavior has been, as Hess and Finn wrote, “frequently appalling.”
Children of color aren’t afraid of Trump because of these shortcomings, appalling though they may be. They are afraid of Trump because he is a racist. And racism is not a failure of behavior. Racism is not ignorance. Racism is not philosophical incoherence. Racism is a specific, chosen ideology of hatred and domination. … Women are afraid of Trump because he is a misogynist and a self-described perpetrator of sexual violence. Muslim students are afraid of Trump because he is a religious bigot who believes in banning an entire faith from entry into our country. … Undocumented children are afraid of Trump because he has called for using the federal government’s police power to forcibly remove them from their schools and homes.
What many educators have been doing since the election, Carey wrote, is “meeting their fundamental obligation to their students: helping them understand the full measure of the world we now live in, and validating their entirely justified fear.”