I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, November 19, 2016

(Some) Reformsters Normalize Trump: Part I

There's nothing we teachers love more than a good hectoring by think-tank types who believe we have magical powers over our students' feelings:
We’re no fans of the president-elect, whose behavior has frequently been appalling, whose policy ignorance is vast, and who appears to lack any coherent philosophy of government. That said, we are astonished that so many educators, schools and colleges chose to treat his election as reason to alarm their students and to suggest that only a Democratic victory would have aligned with the nation’s values. 
We understand that the country is divided and that some kids share their parents’ fears of potentially being deported or losing their health insurance. We’ve surely no objection to teachers comforting fearful children. That’s a responsibility of all adults who care for them. But we don’t believe that educators are supposed to make kids scared or teach that there is a right outcome and a wrong one to a presidential election. And we’re puzzled to see so many educators – and even education journalists – imagine that Trump’s election can only be understood through the prism of racism and xenophobia.
Clearly, the kids are only upset because their teachers are riling them up! It's not like the president-elect has called for mass deportations, or a Muslim registry, or sent his surrogates out to discuss the precedent of WWII Japanese internment camps, or appointed an unrepentant misogynist and racist as his senior advisor, or an unrepentant racist as Attorney General, or a homophobe as vice president, or a religious bigot as national security advisor...

Of course, Checker Finn and Rick Hess are "no fans" of Trump; they have a difference of opinion with Trumpworld, dontcha know! I mean, sure, there might be some racism and xenophobia at work here, but teachers need to understand that you have to get over that in a classroom. Teach the kids about the electoral college instead! That'll make them feel better...

At the risk of repeating what Larry Ferlazzo and Valerie Strauss and Kevin Carey have already written, the notion that somehow teachers are complicit in stirring up children's unwarranted anxieties is ridiculous. Some very ugly forces in the country are feeling validated and acting on what they perceive as an electoral vindication (considering Trump lost the popular vote, that trick takes a special kind of self-delusion).

We've already had plenty of disturbing incidents in schools (including, sadly, my old high school) in the wake of Trump's election. Countering this outflow of hate with a snappy lecture about electoral upsets since 1800 isn't a serious response; in fact, all it does is normalize Trumpworld's anti-American values and behaviors.

I'm sorry to tell the beltway boys this, but if educators occasionally have to cross some imaginary line of Checker and Rick's choosing to enter the "political" realm so they can help their students, so be it. Like most teachers, I try very hard to respect my students' and their families' political, religious, and personal beliefs, even if they are diametrically opposed to mine.

What I won't do, and what any teacher worth her salt would never do, is stand silent while children feel threatened -- especially when they have a rational basis for their fears.

I'm not going to tell a gay student he shouldn't be concerned that the vice president-elect thinks we should spend taxpayer funds to pray-the-gay-away. I'm not going to tell a student she really shouldn't worry that the president-elect is a hot mess of contradictions when it comes to whether he believes she should control her own body. I'm not going to say to parents that their fears about whether their family's religious practices will haunt their child are without merit.

And I'm certainly not going to pretend Hess and Finn's false equivalencies are anything other than absurd:
Well. While progressives may not believe it, here are some of the students who might have had cause to fear a Clinton victory:
  • Evangelicals and Catholics whose religious schools and colleges are threatened by federal authorities for non-compliance with directives related to gender and sexual identity.
  • College students muzzled by progressive speech codes or sanctioned by “bias response teams” for posting Trump signs or celebrating America as a “melting pot,” and well aware that a Clinton administration would embrace such restrictions.
  • Kids bullied or in schools made chaotic by miscreants who would have been suspended if not for directives issued by the Obama Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.
  • The children of police, who watched Clinton campaign alongside individuals who had called for acts of violence against uniformed officers.
  • Children in charter schools who understood that a Clinton win would be bad news for their school and might lead to its closure.
  • College students fearful of being falsely convicted by kangaroo campus courts and publicly pilloried or expelled under the Obama administration’s Star Chamber approach to sexual harassment, which has compelled universities to abandon the basic tenets of due process.
The anxieties of those young people would most certainly have been ignored had Clinton won. Indeed, imagine the Bill Maher gibes that would have followed had a single religious college canceled classes so students could mourn a Clinton victory.
Yeah, last I checked, Clinton wasn't seriously considering a registry for evangelical immigrants, and Bill Maher was a guy who said occasionally funny stuff on TV...

The idea that discomfort with Clinton's policies on charter schools and campus hate speech is somehow equivalent to fears of installing an anti-Semite in the highest levels of the White House is exactly the sort of normalizing of Trumpworld that we can expect from the likes of Hess and Finn in the days ahead. They sense they are finally going to get everything they want: "market-based" education, the end of compulsory teachers union dues, unrestrained charter school expansion, and so on.

If the price to be paid for all these ideological goodies is having a maniac in the White House, surrounded by a bunch of homophobic, xenophobic, racist misogynists... well, sometimes you just gotta suck it up.

Just ask Eva Moskowitz. More in a bit...

Hess & Finn: "We're no fans..."


Giuseppe said...

Excellent and spot on. This should be an op ed in our major NJ newspapers. Trump will stack the SCOTUS with far right wing loons who will be sure to render decisions against the public schools and unions. Things that will be on the GOP chopping block: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the ACA, food stamps, bank regulations, environmental regulations, gay rights, abortion rights, science, evolution science, etc.
The working class folks who voted for Trump will live to regret their choice.

Julie Borst said...

"Children in charter schools who understood that a Clinton win would be bad news for their school and might lead to its closure." But virtually no such qualms about public school closures, loss of funding to charters, the children who are kicked out of the charters, and on and on.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Thanks for a great piece. I had exactly the same reaction, reading the McNews: "opportunistic" is far too polite. Sheep's clothing and all that.

My thinking in the last couple of days (after reading this piece) has been: just how far will Trump's education policy advisors, Secretary and under-minions get to go before organized resistance brings back common sense? (I know that none of these are *his* ideas--this is all about jumping on a reform bandwagon while the jumping's good.)

If we're supposed to be telling justifiably frightened children to buck up, how do we compare to German educators in the 1930s? Were they carrying water for The Party, reassuring their students that the school would be better off if *those* kids went to a school in a camp, one that could serve their special needs better? How long does it take to undo a generation of outright teacher-approved bullshit-spreading?

So here's my take: