The Trump Voters In Our Classrooms

Jose VilsonFeatured, Jose

Recently, I was asked to do an emergency coverage for an English class. It wasn’t my classroom, so I had none of my materials, but it was one of my classes, so I naturally wanted to follow what they were doing. Their English teacher had assigned them a lesson on presidential candidates. I assumed they would do research on the four notable presidential candidates (Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson) and make an informed vote based on their given platforms.

Yet, because I felt the need to provoke, I told my students, “I’m voting for Trump. Convince me otherwise.”

They probably knew I was joking (I hope), but the responses were sharp. This set of English language learners, predominantly from countries that Trump disparages, immediately rattled off reasons I would proffer: he’s racist, sexist, inarticulate, and just a straight up liar. He would seek the removal of their family members and friends from across the country. He’d find ways to break down the country and embarrass anyone who’s left in his wake. They didn’t get to discuss his religious intolerance, lack of respect for social safety nets, or his unmitigated hubris on just about every subject known to us.

But I did give it to the kid who said, “You know what my little sister says? That he’s just a poopyhead!” I conceded defeat right then and there. He’s definitely a poopyhead.

As they scrolled their iPads looking for primary sources and images for their arguments, I couldn’t help but think of all the adults who they’ve entrusted with their brains. How many people who come into contact with our most vulnerable children will cast their vote for Trump, Pence, and everything they stand for? I’ve gotten into plenty of arguments over the merits of each candidate. There are deep flaws that the candidates (and their supporters) would necessarily need to point out to make a valid case for their presidency.

Yet, it’s a peculiar set of folks who truly unnerve me, and they just happen to be voting for Trump.

The idea of educators voting for Donald Trump is not a stretch, either. We have plenty of educators who think that public education is a right only for their descendants. Much ado was made by the rank-and-file of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association about Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen-Garcia’s lightning-quick endorsement of Hillary Clinton. But many of the Trump supporters I know feel disaffected by our major teachers unions, even when they may not be represented by an actual union. They use “government intrusion” and “ObamaCore” for the new wave of standards and the plethora of documents, rubrics, and frameworks that were thrown their way as of late. They see the racial and cultural diversity in their classroom as a disservice, because it means the “others” are getting access to the same resources as their own. They consider non-Christian traditions as America losing its way, and children of color who get in trouble as degenerates who need to take personal responsibility for their failings.

To reiterate, they believe education is a privilege, not a right, for non-white children. They revel in “telling it like it is,” even when the status quo includes treating various people with utter disrespect. They talk about kids who come to school to live off the system, but never look at their own pensions and benefits as a systemic benefit fought for by divergent thinkers and doers. They treat our LGBTQ students as a problem for them and their classroom, yet don’t reflect on their cancerous relationships they have with colleagues who don’t think like them. They leave right at the bell, too, not because of personal matters or union rules, but because they feel like they’ve been casted a bad lot teaching thugs and thuggettes of non-white varieties.

They think Trump might keep them in their classrooms and get rid of the cretins and vagabonds that just don’t want to learn from them. Or else.

This attitude is so pervasive that, to anyone who doesn’t inquire, it’s hard to tell who actually supports Trump given my aforementioned tenets. Indeed, every Trump supporter I’ve encountered embraces all that comes with his candidacy, but not every racist / sexist / classist is a Trump supporter. Our students these days seem more ready to confront these systemic issues in a way adults won’t. Our students are both powerful and disenfranchised. When given the option to hear students’ opinions, too many adults find ways to cut their voices by the roots.

Of course, this attitude is pervasive. Even those of us voting for / siding with a more liberal candidate like Clinton, Sanders, or Stein can still believe in the very tenets that allow for Trump-like ideologies to exist. Some educators get uber-fascist in the face of people of color *real* quick. They’ll say all students matter when they don’t actually believe it. The mere mention of empathy and humanity gives some of my colleagues hives, a scary prospect given what so many of our students must face on a daily basis.

But it’s my colleagues who’ve proudly proclaim their allegiance to Trump that should give us pause to reflect on those that tacitly support his methods. If we’re not willing to repudiate these symptoms, how, then, can we push back against the constituency exposed by Trump’s candidacy? Can we fight like hell to make sure Donald Trump doesn’t win and keep fighting the good fight if / when Hillary Clinton wins?

Can we do the daily work of assuring that social justice, love, and empathy reign over any and all classrooms where our kids learn?

Until then, teachers who vote for Trump will boast loudly about how they almost got rid of those Muslim kids with their votes. They’ll boast about almost getting rid of every suspected “illegal immigrant” from this country in 24 hours and building a wall right behind them. (Note bene: President Obama has deported more people than any other president in United States history.) They’ll make derogatory comments about their female colleagues, deriding objections as folks getting their “panties in a bunch.” They’ll have a sea of other adults who, at once, voted for Clinton or Stein and won’t disavow their colleagues in the name of collegiality and unity. Whatever that means.

They’ll get called out, side-eyed, and shouted down by students who don’t want to behave for them. They’ll want to make America great again. They’re right; we’ll make it great. The minute they step out of our classrooms, America will be greater for it.