The Trump Voters In Our Classrooms

Jose VilsonFeatured, Jose7 Comments

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.

Comments 7

  1. I just have to point out that, at the time AFT endorsed Hillary, her opponent was Bernie Sanders. As an AFT member who had no voice in that decision, or indeed any decision it makes, I could not support it. (Of course it is a great honor to pay them dues regardless.)

    Supporting Hillary against Donald Trump is much easier for me to understand.

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      YES, exactly. Trust, I’m with you on that. My point there was that there was WAY more discussion about that split versus the one around Clinton vs. Trump. That’s worth discussing and teasing out.

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about this – especially with the data on how white women voted (and the number of them in classrooms with black & brown students). It is infuriating, but not surprising, and makes me want to fight harder, and empower my students to do the same.

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  3. Most Trump supporters in the ranks probably did not speak out in his favor. How many are there? It’s difficult to know. Our schools are predominantly liberal. To be a conservative is to be a minority in the workplace. Such irony! It’s easy to assume that my fellow educators are as liberal as I am. Does my behavior make them feel that they have to live in the shadows?

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      Well, it largely depends on the school, too. There are some schools where “conservatives” are the majority and being a liberal is a frightening situation. I also think Trump’s ascendency emboldened a large section of folks in many professions to speak up about their preferences, including within our ranks.

      Having said that, I don’t want to lose sight of the point of the post, which is, regardless of what side we think we’re on, we have a lot of work to do in order to eradicate the racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, able-ist language (and actions) that continues to permeate our schools.

  4. Hi Jose,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. As a student teacher in a high school Government classroom, I have faced many students who were supportive or Trump, and tried my best to make them feel heard and welcome in my classroom, while still putting a stop to the more virulent language that Trump supporters tend to employ. I was a staunch Hillary supporter myself, but I know that no one’s mind has ever been changed by being or feeling silenced, so I try to engage all of my students in productive and respectful debate instead. This doesn’t always work, of course, but it feels as though it is worth trying.
    It sends a chill down my spine to think that there are some teachers who might not give the same courtesy to their liberal students, or who might see so little potential or worth in their students of color that they would vote for someone who has displayed so little respect for them. How do you recommend that we engage with these colleagues? I can’t believe that they would be beyond reach. Moreover, I see great value in allowing students to be exposed to teachers with many different political/religious/social viewpoints. Schools should be a place for the sharing of ideas, not an echo chamber. But when so many of the ideas being shared by the right are harmful or frightening to our students, how can we possibly respond?

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