Teaching in the Time of Trump
Promoting the Independent Investigation for Truth
Well, the nuclear threat is the highest it has been since I was a child when, ironically, “the Russians” were the “enemy. ”Parents of a sick baby are followed around a hospital, considered some kind of danger to the American public because of their immigration status. Victims of sexual assault are apparently creating the problem by speaking out about a violent sexual culture on many residential college campuses. Waters are whipping across the Atlantic, but that is not because of environmental changes. Young people who have lived their entire lives in this country are again afraid for the future.
What am I missing? Oh yeah, the call for police brutality, the Boy Scout speech, the military transgender ban, Charlottesville, the NFL comments, health care...each day stacks a new threat to all of the principles of America. But I’m thinking about how America has rested on principles, and in the status quo of mass culture, the contradictions are forever ignored; maybe this is a time that highlights that principles are meaningless, until they are tested and lived by.
I’ve experienced some personal good from living in this time of Trump, a good laugh with my dad when Scaramucci climbed on the crazy train, got a little too crazy, and fell off in a matter of hours. If you don’t remember Scaramucci, it doesn’t matter. But I had a good laugh with my dad when I really needed it. Humor is a tricky antidote, and laughing at the laughable tragic is respite, but we can’t just eat sheet cake. (Thanks Tina, but no thanks, but it was funny, but no.)
In my first reflection on my teaching during this historical moment, I thought had two choices, cocoon or become the outspoken, politically charged riot citizen I’ve always been ashamed I’m not, doing stuff I don’t really do: marching, organizing, holding sit-ins and teach-ins and walk-outs. But now that his is my every day, I’ve settled for consciously politicizing my students by building class activities around being informed, staying engaged with social issues, learning how to find news and read news and make news, and stay critical about it. I’m strengthening a liaison with librarians to get students utilizing the resources we offer, so that they can be more aware and more engaged as a result. And politicizing my students does not mean influencing them to think like I think. Because I teach in the basic skills classroom, many of my students are shaped by a fight for survival. In both physical and psychological ways, my students are often precariously seeking space from the prosaic concerns that dictate how life can be lived, so my classroom as a haven has worked for all of us: a comfort zone to craft, to find confidence, to develop in a way that does not rush, or insist or create anxiety. I still want the kind of classroom that offers many moments of what they acutely care about and feel connected to through asocial issue paper. Instead of waiting until mid-semester to get into library skills, I started with a library orientation the first week of school, and we are building library skills throughout the semester. In this time of Trump, the library is sacred space. We are surrounded by head spinning spin, and “alternative facts.” In response, I want to teach one enduring act; that act is the independent investigation for truth. I was taught this as a religious principle growing up, and it’s what I’m passing on to my students as my critical work in the time of Trump.
Their Engagement Matters
Assumptions and opinions, one point perspectives, or the beliefs of others are not enough. This is a time to seek to know more, as a daily ritual. We stumbled on a quote in class, a quote by Plato, “Your silence gives consent.” This is a moment when every silence determines the kind of society we consent to live in. We have to insist on developing those enduring habits that give us confidence to live out loud. My students are from many communities: they are black, they are brown, they are poor, they are immigrants, they are first generation, they are DACA, they are women, they are lgbtq, they are veterans, they are the formerly incarcerated, they were foster youth, they are disabled; and my work as a teacher is to offer tools that can help them insist on their own loud calls against what affronts their lives and all that would destroy their ability to assert a place in this society. The crazy, sad, shocking whirlwind that currently describes American politics gives me an opportunity to insist with urgency that my students know that their engagement matters; and that as they develop their own habits to deeply engage with the truths shaping their lives, they will engage more in shaping the society towards a new future, where America is not struggling with contradiction and hypocrisy, not asserting beautiful principles while masquerading.
First Published by CFT Perspective in October 2017. www.cft.org