I have struggled for MONTHS with approaching politics in the classroom. Mostly, I have decided to shove aside current events in favor of historical topics of the 1760s and '70s. Maybe that was the wrong choice, but I'm not arguing about that now; I am looking ahead. The area where I teach (the Boston metro region) is predominantly liberal/Democratic so "coming out" with some left-wing beliefs & preferences is not unique or controversial, but there are pockets of dissenters and I know that about 10 of my 85 students are Trump supporters. I believe it is never fair for a conscientious* minority to get disregarded / disrespected by the majority -- no matter what the issue.
So I've tried to act neutral, I've avoided subjects like the 1st Amendment and contemporary protest, I've never shared my political decisions with students, I've rarely provided opportunities to discuss the news, I've required signing a contract (from Teaching Tolerance) to join those rare discussions ... and then only implemented it twice. I've left my students to wonder "Is he hiding something scary from us?", "Does he secretly hope that some families will get deported?", "Does he care about any of the issues I care about?"
* With this adjective I discount immoral extremists like serial killers, slavery apologists, pedophiles, white supremacists, and other human beings who deserve to live but not to live comfortably because they choose to be this way.
Donald Trump lies and bends the truth. He hires and encourages staffers to do the same: Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway...
- The press secretary's first announcement was to berate most media outlets and to make 4 easy-to-disprove claims about Metro rider numbers and attendance figures.
- The former campaign manager defended her colleague for providing these "alternative facts", which became such a laughable assertion that Merriam-Webster trolled her on Twitter.
- Four days after his inauguration, Trump repeated the unsupportable claim that "three to five million votes" for Hillary Clinton came from illegal votes. He defended and condoned Spicer's and Conway's statements the previous weekend.
- We have no reason to believe these were aberrations or rookie mistakes.
Mister President, I must call you out in my classroom. My 8th grade students don't get away with simply asserting that "many people say", or supporting claims with "alternative facts", or using "other studies" that don't actually say what they claim it does. You can't get away with that, either. Let's focus on one falsehood from today's news cycle, which Mr. Trump has repeated since November: There is no evidence that more than 0.1% of all votes in the 2016 election (or previous ones) were cast by people who entered the country illegally or otherwise should be barred from voting.
When you repeatedly lie or bend the truth, and when you support friends when they mislead us, you lose our faith. You lose our trust. Elementary schoolers know this; middle schoolers accept it too. Dishonesty costs friendships for teenagers. Cheating has consequences for children. We work so hard as school teachers to uphold these values and consequences. If I continue to treat the executive branch's statements at face value and/or to avoid their relevance in current events, then I am condoning and normalizing all forms of dishonesty. That makes me a bad role model, and a bad teacher.
When you get caught lying, it makes all the rumors & stories about you much easier to believe. All those things we shoved aside a few paragraphs ago return to the spotlight. If we can't trust you ethically and morally, then your political, economic, social, and personal choices suffer a bigger burden of proof. If that's not fair, then sorry. Stop lying for a while, and I will re-consider. (Just like I would eventually do for a misbehaving tween or teen.)
So I am out. Out of my self-imposed closet. I will not tell students to agree with me, and I will not tell them what to think. But I will tell my students about the lies, and I will tell them how I know* they are lies. Yes, I will finally inform them sometime soon that I voted for Hillary Clinton last November, but I will focus on my beliefs about leadership qualities like honesty and trustworthiness (including the concerns I had about her as well). My views on taxation, state sovereignty, and marriage rights are not particularly relevant to the classroom or my role as a school teacher, so I will continue avoid sharing those. That seems like an appropriate level of neutrality.
* That is different from believing they are lies. Belief is subjective; knowing is objective and so are facts, or else you're living in The Matrix and nothing matters and we're all a program and I'm not even real so why are you even reading this, Mr. Anderson?
Lying, misleading, exploiting, and cheating are wrong. That is a non-partisan statement. My students deserve to understand this lesson, and everybody in room 212 will await the end of this story -- to see the eventual consequences for Mr. Trump and his staff. The children and I are watching.
P.S. Love this but don't know how to give credit to the original author: