As the US election has unfolded over the last six months, I have been left with a distinct feeling of unease. As both a social studies teacher and school principal during my career, I have always believed that schools hold a vital role in helping our students become participants in the democratic process and should be places where open debate is encouraged and opposing viewpoints can coexist. The operating principle of democracy has always been civil disagreement.

But Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican candidate for president has changed all of that. How can I possibly sponsor a mock debate or election at my school when one of the candidates is unabashedly racist, sexist and violent in his rhetoric?  How can we possibly live up to our mission statements and core values at our schools if we allow his venom to spread within our halls?  His views are not merely repulsive, they are dangerous as well; a candidate who yearns for the olden days when protesters would be taken out on stretchers is an apologist for some of the darkest chapters in US history.  Observers are missing the point if they think that Trump is  a "con man" or that his gravest flaw is that he is willing to bring penis size into a primary debate.  No, Trump's authoritarian vision and discriminatory rhetoric are a direct threat to democracy.

The impact of Trump's rhetoric can already be found in our schools.  From immigrant and Muslim children who fear for their safety, to thuggish acts of discrimination being carried about by Trump followers.   At a recent basketball game Andrean High School students shouted “Build a wall” at their rivals from a largely Hispanic school during a basketball game in Indiana, and as the video below shows, this is not an anomaly.

My gut tells me that schools should not remain silent to this threat, nor treat Trump's views as simply one end of the political spectrum.  Though we may feel uncomfortable taking political sides and appearing to be endorsing one political party over another, what choice do we really have? As the NYTimes journalist Brandon Stanton recently wrote in an open letter to Trump: "I've come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one." 

I am not sure what the next steps are, but I hope that likeminded teachers, principals and superintendents can start a dialogue about how to deal with this issue. What should we do when students parrot Trump's discriminatory stances? How will we deal with parents who want us to provide a "balanced approach" even if this is contrary to our values as a school?  If anything, I would hope that these questions help remind us that schools are more than just places where students learn math, English, and science: they should serve as the training ground for any effective democracy.  We want open debate, civil disagreement, and passionate stances on the issues. Let me be clear, I don't think we should be censoring student speech or their viewpoints on campus. But we should actively show our students the real outcomes of inciting violence, spreading misogyny and embracing racist and discriminatory views.  We should not let those views hide behind the apparent legitimacy that is given to a candidate who represents the Republican party.

In the face of all of this, I am asking for ideas from teachers and administrators.  What is your plan? How can we band together to fight prejudice and fear?  Let's send a message to Trump.  #NotInMySchool and use this hashtag to generate ideas.  There is only one thing I know for sure: we cannot simply standby and watch this happen. 


  1. #NothInMySchool, an uncompromising first step towards the imperative for educators to take a stand against the free license of rampant racist, sexist, xenophobe, and vulgar hate speeches spreading in schools.
    The second step being our duty to document the devastating impact of such speeches throughout history to shift the focus from comedy to tragedy.
    Freedom of speech is key. We know that "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all". (Noam Chomsky). However, and especially within the context of international schools' quagmire of multicultural spectrum, we need to collaborate on a framework that will allow open and lively debates beyond the passive obedience of "business as usual".
    It is time to make a sustainable difference for our students to model, along with an appropriate response to the insult that Trump was acting as a middle schooler!

  2. It's tricky, especially when you know for a fact that you have students whose parents support Trump. We have to be careful not to isolate them by suggesting that their parents lack a moral compass.

    The "some people think/other people think" model generally works well for me. But I feel my hands a bit tied here because, particularly when it comes to Trump's comments about women, they are too offensive and tasteless to even present to middle school students. For example, in discussing why many accuse Trump of misogny, I would like to share this collection of Trumps comments about women, but can't because they are so vulgar! I think that, to the extent that it is possible, letting the Donald speak for himself will be enough for students to see that he is reckless and hateful. How can I addressTrump's comments about Mexican immigrants without including a lesson about what rape is?

    Anyway, for me the big problem is not Trump, but Trump supporters. What does this all say about American education, and especially about social studies education?

  3. Jeff,
    #NotinMySchool for me was a kind of non Brazilian issue, but I've noticed that the discussions you are bringing are also urgent here!


Post a Comment