Being Apolitical in the age of Donald Trump

By Richard House

I have had an unwritten rule when it comes to politics since the start of my teaching career. The rule was based on the fact that it was my job to guide my students thinking and encourage them to become critical and global thinkers. They should be able to form their own personal and political opinions based on the information provided, and I should never let them know what my own personal political beliefs are. This sounds nice on the surface, but in an age when a racist bigot, with no real political experience, has managed to come within an inch of the highest office in the United States, it is absolutely impossible to abide by this rule. As an educator with a passion for Social Justice, I cannot sit back and remain objective when it comes to Trumps campaign.

The majority of the students I teach are not white. Many of them are Hispanic, black, Muslim, and come from various social economic, religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. As an educator, I refuse to sit back and remain objective as Trump continues to run one of the most unprofessional and downright bigoted presidential campaigns in the history of this nation. As a United States History, I have been very clear with my students when teaching various eras in history. While some teachers may hail many of our nations early presidents as hero’s, my students are always informed of Thomas Jefferson’s blatant hypocrisy regarding his views on slavery and Sally Hemmings. While many young people are led to believe that Abraham Lincoln simply freed slaves, my students also focus on the Dilemma he faced in doing so and the fact that he himself did not see black people as equals to whites.

Donald Trump can be no different. During the spring of 2016, a parent in Fairfax County Virginia reported that students at her child’s elementary school had taunted her child and used phrases such as “When Donald trump becomes president you’re going to be deported!”. This type of behavior in America’s school children is not only unacceptable, but is a direct result of Trump’s hate filled campaign and possibly bad parenting. As educators it is our job to not only help our students reach their fullest potential and provide them with the necessary resources to do so, but to also highlight issues of social justice and help them come up with solutions to solve these problems.

As we prepare to start a new school year here are some things that I will be doing in my classroom when focusing on the 2016 Election.

1)      Make it Known that Hate and Racism are Not Okay: It is no secret that Donald Trump has run a bigoted campaign and my students will know where I stand on this matter. They will know that vitriol that comes out of his mouth is not only ill becoming of a presidential candidate, but it is also appalling in general. Some might argue that this may alienate students who support him. I teach in a school that is more than 55% Hispanic.

2)      Centering Debates around issues of Social Justice: In a year where both candidates for political office are mired in controversy, I’ve decided that much of what I teach about the 2016 election will be focused on the issues.  In a nation that continues to be plagued by racial injustice and institutions that systemically prevent people of color from gaining success, it is critical that our young people understand where the candidates stand on issues of social justice. As an educator it is my goal for my students to use what is taught in my classroom, to go out and change the world and make a difference. Therefore it is my job to highlight issues of social injustice that otherwise they may never learn about.

3)      Make your Classroom a Safe Space: A classroom full of students, each with their own belief systems and opinions, is never going to completely agree on one issue. Make sure from the start that you have created a classroom culture that encourages acceptance and a place where students can disagree with one another without being disrespectful. While Donald Trump may make a habit of bullying and taunting his opponents, this type of behavior has no place in a classroom or academic setting.

4)       Making Comparisons to Previous Elections: Something that I am very much looking forward to is comparing this Election to previous presidential elections. How has the political landscape changed? What is different about this election? In a time in which our country seems as divided as ever, the next president will have a daunting task of uniting a highly polarized country. The 2016 Election has been regarded as one that is like no other before it. Why is this so? These are all questions that can provide strong a and engaging discussion in a classroom setting.

While many of us cannot wait for this election season to be over, as educators we cannot run away from event the most controversial of topics.  Our students must be given the opportunity to voice their concerns, beliefs, and opinions about the upcoming election and we must facilitate it in a manner that demands respect, compassion, and empathy.