Teaching In Trump’s America: The Edification of Ignorance Makes My Job Harder
It’s Friday, and it’s been a long week. Standing in the hallway to greet students with enthusiasm, I am beat… But duty calls. The bell rings, signaling the start of the show. Walking into the classroom, there is the usual Friday din of activity — students planning for the weekend, going over the previous night’s reading, and maybe even talking fantasy sports to their fellow league members.
But it’s time to get their attention.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the deuce… English 2! Time for the warm-up! Explain how someone might consider Chris McCandless a hero. 100 words… and… go!”
We have just finished Jon Kraukauer’s masterpiece Into the Wild. Or we should have just finished the masterpiece. Some students are scratching away with their pencils while others are not. They are simply sitting in their chairs flipping through the book, pretending like they are looking for something to write. Letting the plot unfold, I allow about 10 minutes for students to formulate a response. Then it is time to share because, of course, sharing is caring. And we care A LOT in English 2. So I ask for volunteers. The usual suspects volunteer. A couple of kids crushing the course nail the response
And then there are the kids who wrote very little, students who see little value in the course and its contents.
So I decide to call on Nick, a student who was flipping through the book pretending to look for something to write. He eventually did write something in his journal, and I legitimately wanted to hear what he has to say. He normally has some witty warm ups, but education has yet to become his priority. I hope to change that. “Nick… watcha got?”
Proudly, he begins to read his journal write up. “I only got half way through Into the Wild. It was unexciting and boring. And I could care less if Alex J. Supertramp is considered a hero or not. And I’m probably going to fail the quiz and I really don’t care about that either.” He is proud of what he wrote and proud that he “bucked the system” and didn’t finish the book.
Nick is the perfect example of the student I am trying to reach; students who see little to no value in their education are what keep me up at night. And I have to reach these students before they walk out of my classroom.
President Trump Is Making My Job More Difficult
In February of 2016, then-candidate Trump made an eyebrow- raising remark (one overshadowed by many other eyebrow- raising remarks during his campaign) regarding the uneducated after he rolled to victory in the Nevada Caucus. “We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
“I love the poorly educated.” He didn’t choose to point out the educated. Instead, his focus was on the so- called “uneducated.”
Throughout his young presidency, Trump has done nothing to show that he values education. Seriously, the man may think that Frederick Douglas is among the living.
More recently, during his visit to France, Trump called France “America’s first and oldest ally.” A true statement. We do owe our independence, largely, to France’s intervention in our earliest war against Merry Ole England.
Mr. Trump, however, didn’t stop there. He went on to claim that “a lot of people don’t know that.” Meaning that many don’t know basic history. And it was unclear who the “many” is. Was he speaking to Americans? The French? The Russians? 2nd graders? Or, perhaps, he was talking to the Man on the Moon.
This is basic American History. And this is not an isolated incident. Beyond his words, Trump’s actions reflect his low view of learning. The most egregious example is his appointment of the laughably unqualified Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, a woman who has little to no knowledge of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, nor does she understand the struggles minorities face in our schools. Her deficiencies are too numerous to list here. Feel free to do a little research of your own. Go ahead and Google “Betsy Devos” and look at the terrifying results.
This administration is waging a war on education, a fact that has been buried in coverage of healthcare, investigations into criminal-level scandals, and the president’s war against the free press.
When the leader of the free world edifies ignorance, it makes the job of a teacher more difficult. Here is a man — our president — saying to students that their education doesn’t matter, that ignorance is tolerable- even desirable. That edification casts a long shadow, a shadow that looms over every school in America.
Each day, I have to walk into my classroom and show students that education is important even though our president has endorsed ignorance. Part of my job has become to inoculate students against the view point that Trump expressed on that winter night in Nevada, that education lacks importance.
And, under this shadow, I have to convince Nick that his education matters, that it is important for him to get that diploma and move on in his educational career. And that it is important to read Into the Wild, or to know that math equation, or to study for that Biology test. Because education is important. And valuable.
As this administration continues its attack on education, it is ever more important for educators to stand up and show our students that their education is an integral part of their life.