I can hardly blame any teachers who hesitate to vote for the Democratic nominee this year. One obvious reason is that many teachers are themselves Republicans and hesitate to vote for any Democratic nominee. Another is that many teachers, with cause, are wary of many Democratic politicians who have embraced the agenda of school privatization with a vigor that was hardly conceivable twenty years ago. In the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, Democrats such as Andrew Cuomo of New York and Rahm Emanuel of Chicago have been passionate architects of school closings, have embraced blame-the-teachers-first evaluation and retention policies, and have promoted school privatization that undermines truly public schools. While I have argued that Secretary Hillary Clinton has signaled willingness to pivot from these policies in her administration, I cannot blame teachers who hesitate in the wake of a pair of two term Presidents, one Republican and one Democratic, both of whom embraced awful education policies.
But I address this blog to teachers who are contemplating what I find unthinkable – casting a ballot for Donald Trump. I call it unthinkable because I am starting from a premise that teachers care about their students and want what is best for them. For every single one of your students, regardless of who they are and who their families are, there is something horrible at the core of what Donald Trump’s continued domination of the national landscape would mean. While I find his policies – such as they are – harmful and nearly farcical, what is even more disturbing to me as an educator would be giving him four years in the most visible and influential office in the nation where he would have a guaranteed national audience for the unending sexism and bigotry that has become the lingua franca of his campaign. As a teacher, you should be able to look all of your students in the eye and say that your vote has helped them. I do not believe you can do that if you vote for Donald Trump.
Half of your students are girls and young women. What could you possibly say to them that justifies a vote for Donald Trump? That it does not matter if the President of the United States of America is a man with a decades long record of belittling women in public mostly because of how they look? That it does not matter if the President of the United States is a man who routinely barged in on partially dressed teen aged beauty pageant contestants? That it does not matter if the President of the United States has a record of making sexually suggestive comments to under-aged women? That it does not matter if the President of the United States is a man who routinely relates to women only in terms of their sexual desirability? That it does not matter if the President of the United States is a man who bragged about his ability to get away with sexual assault and then tried to brush it off as “locker room talk”?
I challenge any teacher looking a classroom full of girls and young women who deserve to be seen as complete human beings and to be evaluated on the basis of their accomplishments – and to explain how the President of the United States can be a man who speaks and acts like this. For that matter, I challenge any teacher to look a the boys and young men in their classrooms who deserve to be taught to respect all people and say that electing a man with such pervasive and obvious misogyny is okay.
You have students with disabilities in your classroom. Donald Trump famously mocked a reporter, a reporter he knew reasonably well, in an effort to deflect criticism of his false claims about Muslims celebrating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. When called on his revolting display making fun of the man’s physical disability, he basically lied about it. The incident reveals starkly how little regard Donald Trump has for either the truth or for affirming the dignity of people with disabilities. As a teacher, could you honestly tell your students with disabilities that it does not matter if the President of the United States shows so little care for their dignity?
Donald Trump as President threatens harm to other students in your classrooms as well. While 1.4% of U.S. school children are themselves undocumented immigrants, millions of school children who are United States citizens have at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant. Donald Trump’s signature policy proposals on immigration would cause them unspeakable harm. While Muslims remain a small percentage of Americans, they and their children are under staggering pressure due to the Republican nominee. Almost two thirds of American Muslim adults, who are largely middle class and mainstream in beliefs, are foreign born, which means that their families overseas would be barred from visiting under Donald Trump’s various plans to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. Donald Trump has also called for a national “stop and frisk” policy for police as part of his “law and order” campaign pledge. This would be an unmitigated disaster for African American and Latino students, especially African American and Latino young men. “Stop and Frisk” in New York City was an abject failure of a policy that could only justify itself by coinciding with nationwide decline in crime whose reasons are multi-faceted and complex. At its height in 2011, “stop and frisk” policing stopped mostly African American (53%) and Latino (34%) New Yorkers a total of 685,724 times. 88% of those stopped were entirely innocent of doing anything that was even worthy of a ticket, let alone doing anything criminal. The only thing a national stop and frisk policy would encourage is the ongoing and continuous violation of the rights of young African American and Latino men. Could you, as a teacher, look at your students of color, who are children of immigrants, and who are Muslim and say that a vote for Donald Trump is a vote that will protect and respect them?
Beyond the actual harm caused by these policies, is the harm caused by the man himself and the careless manner by which he espouses bigotry against Muslims, other minorities, and immigrants. Hate speech is on the rise, and there is a direct line between Donald Trump’s willingness to entertain practically every form of prejudice imaginable and this phenomenon. The Southern Poverty Law Center has written about a “Trump effect” in our schools where Muslims and immigrant children are facing increased bullying in school. Donald Trump’s campaign has also given form and purpose to the “alt right,” a previously amorphous collection of white supremacists and anti-Semites who have identified a champion in Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and promises and believe that they can muscle their way into the American mainstream through him. Millions of young people are watching this campaign and forming their ideas about what is and is not acceptable in American democracy through the first Presidential campaign they have paid attention to in their lives. What lessons are they learning that will serve the crucial values of Democracy and Pluralism through a candidate who embraces racial, religious, and national bigotry, who expresses those ideas with careless abandon, and who emboldens the sickest corners of our national character to think that their time has come? Can you, as a teacher, vote for a man whose campaign rhetoric would earn him immediately detention in your school and whose worst followers target so many of your students with hate speech and harassment?
Teachers pledge to do a great deal more than to teach their students content and academic skills. We are also caretakers of our students’ emotional and social development. Every young person in your classroom is a sacred trust between parents and guardians and society through you and your colleagues. Your job involves creating a small version of a pluralistic and welcoming society in the space of your classroom, a society where all students are welcomed and affirmed so that they can take risks and grow both intellectually and socially. There is literally nothing in the Trump campaign or a potential Trump Presidency that is congruous with that trust. In Donald Trump, we have a potential President whose language and behavior towards women, the disabled, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants would earn him immediate discipline from any teacher and principal worthy of the job. As President, he would be an ongoing disaster to those of us who hope to foster an environment of care in our classrooms, and he would consistently demean those we are charged to uplift. I challenge any teacher contemplating him for President to enter the voting and imagine the children in your classroom – if you could not explain your vote to them, think carefully about what that means. Your students are watching to see what kind of a nation we really are.