As a high school American History and Government teacher, I take seriously my obligation to refrain from giving any inclination of my party affiliation. More than anything else, I don’t want my views to influence unduly what my students believe, nor do I want any of them to suspect me of grading based on my own political leanings—which I would never do. I couldn’t care less what party my students support, so long as each of them leaves my classroom with a better understanding of why they support it.
During presidential election seasons, I’m especially careful to avoid sharing my personal views about any candidate. But we have never had a frontrunner like Donald Trump, nor has our political system ever been so polarized. In this uncharted territory, here is how I have managed Trump in my classroom.
Encourage students to speak out
As part of a unit on government and the media, students explored how to write political opinion pieces. One senior wrote a thoughtful article on The Donald’s flaws, and she shared her story Trump: A True Republican? in The Gator, the school’s online student news site, which I advise. “Even if Trump fails to win the Republican nomination, and even if he fails to win against Clinton or Sanders, the fact that he has made it this far speaks volumes to the current state of American political consciousness,”she writes. This passionate yet rational tone fostered thoughtful debate among not just her classmates, but the whole community. Students did not need me to chime in.
Criticize Trump’s behavior, not his politics
All the same, students continue to ask what I think of Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, like how Mexico is bringing “drugs,”“crime,”and “rapists”into the United States, or how he uses “extremely unattractive” and “bimbo”to describe accomplished female journalists. As a teacher, I feel a higher obligation to respond, fearful that students would take my silence for indifference at best, or support at worst. As a leader and mentor, I need to model considerate behavior. I shy from commenting on Trump’s political platform, but without losing my calm, I express how I believe that such language is not suitable for a person vying for the highest office in the land.
Keep the conversation going
In all my classes, not just Government, I devote time to discussing the election. Simply avoiding Trump, however controversial he may be, does not foster student understanding. I frequently remind students to remain civil but passionate, as it’s probable that some of their peers, along with millions of other Americans, support Trump. I challenge students to act more mature than the current state of American political discourse, and they continue to impress.
Use Trump to delve into policy issues
Whatever one’s feelings on Trump, it’s difficult to dispute that his candidacy has captured the attention of young people. More than ever before, I’ve found my students are interested in American politics and the role of government in their lives. I sometimes redirect conversation about Trump to important policy issues. This has inspired students to write an array of politically oriented stories for The Gator, including Curbing Gun Violence in America, How Women are Portrayed by the Media, Super Pacs: The Third Rail of Politics?, Brimmer Seniors to Cast First Ballot in MA Primary, and Congressman Kennedy on Trade, Healthcare and Education. At my school, conversation about politics—not just Trump—is alive and well. I would like to think I have played at least some role in contributing to that culture.
How do you manage Trump in your classroom? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.