Friday was an interesting day for my students and myself. We saw a demagogue be sworn into arguably the most powerful and important position in the world. We watched an inaugural address that basically said America was terrible: our schools are "flushed with cash" with students "devoid of knowledge", our people are on welfare and not working, gangs and drugs are destroying our country, and mothers and children are trapped in poverty.
Throughout the speech, we were all thinking the same thing, how would this impact us as individuals? At the time, we didn't really know, but I think we are getting a clearer picture. Actually, we received some strong indicators within the first few hours of his presidency and it started with the transition of the White House website.
Before you read any further, please know that I am aware of how the site updates and transfers when a new president comes into office. Not only am I aware, but I made sure my students also understand how this works. This knowledge does not change the high level of concern that we felt after hearing of some of the changes.
By the end of the day, we learned that there was no longer any mention of some very important societal and global issues. A quick look at the sites of President Obama compared to Mr. Trump shows you the priorities of the issues according to the administration.
The immediate changes were glaringly clear and alarming to all of us. My students were alarmed that there was no longer any mention of climate change, civil rights, LGBTQ, and others. Instead, they were able to see what was of the utmost importance to their new presidential administration.
As informed young people (not devoid of knowledge contrary to Mr. Trump's opinions), they are aware of Mr. Trump's and his administration's views on climate change. We watched parts of the confirmation hearing for EPA nominee Scott Pruitt in class. They heard him tell Senator Bernie Sanders that his opinion on what caused climate change was "immaterial" to running the EPA, while admitting that humans "impact" but do not cause the phenomenon. My students (and youth everywhere) seem to understand the importance of saving our planet while those who now run our country do not.
They are also incredibly aware of how important their civil rights are if they want to be safe in this world. What kind of message does it send to our youth when civil rights issues are omitted in favor of "standing up for our law enforcement community"? They are aware of the state of policing in our country. They know how many unarmed Black and Latino people are killed and targeted by police. They have learned about the civil rights violations and unconstitutional uses of excessive force by the Chicago Police Department against community members.
They know about the history of Senator Jeff Sessions, whose nomination to serve as our nation's Attorney General is a danger to their rights. They have knowledge of his links to racism and the KKK that resulted in his being denied a Federal judgeship by a Senate committee. They understand how this appointment can potentially impact them as non-white members of this country.
They know about the new administration's stance on LGTBQ rights. They are familiar with the attempts of vice-president Pence to allow discrimination against people because of their sexuality along with the anti-marriage rights for people of this community. They have learned that the prominent line of thinking is that sexuality and orientation is a choice and people can have this changed.
As you can see, my students are well-informed. They do not have their heads in the clouds and fully understand the reality that is in front of them. This is why the failure to mention any of these issues on Mr. Trump's White House page is so incredibly troubling to them. The most important issues for our youth are not on the radar for our new administration, so what do we say to our students?
How do we tell our students that their safety is a priority? How do we tell our most marginalized groups of students that they have rights and matter to the people who control our nation? How can we tell them to stay positive and give the new administration a chance? How can we tell them to focus on what they can control when what they cannot control is a very real threat to their physical, mental, and emotional well-being?
The answer is simple: WE DON'T. We don't sugar coat things. We don't tell them that everything will be alright when we cannot promise that to them. We don't tell them what and how to feel about what is transpiring in front of their eyes. We don't ignore their feelings and tell them to focus on their school work. We don't tell them how or what to feel and when to feel it.
Instead, we listen. We teach. We inform. We support unconditionally. We love. We are present. We open our minds and hearts to them. We place their physical, mental, and emotional well-being over everything else. We accept that curriculum can wait. We stress that they are the future of our world. We encourage them to spread knowledge and information to their loved ones. We preach acceptance and advocating for one another. We help mold socially responsible young minds. We create citizens that stand up for what is right, domestically and globally. We empower the future of our world to realize their own power in society.
As educators, we have taken an oath to support the Constitution and everything that it encompasses. During times like these, this is a responsibility that we cannot take lightly. We must remember the reasons behind the creation of the Constitution.
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
I reaffirm my oath as an educator and a citizen. I will fight injustice everywhere and teach my students to do the same. I will work to do everything I can to educate and empower my students. It is our responsibility to create citizens who will change this world for the better. Will you reaffirm your oath to do just that?
I, Sean A. Thom, do solemnly swear, (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same and to the governments established in the United States and in this State, under the authority of the people.