There’s a substantial movement to boycott, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the January 20th, Inauguration of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States. This movement is being justified by Trump’s political opponents as a way to fight the normalization of the Donald’s litany of transgression against a progressive perspective or liberal state of mind. It is being sold as the “ultimate” act of defiance against the incoming President and his agenda. In reality it is the defiance of the squeamish and a willful act of ignorance that I cannot endorse as an educator.
Don’t get me wrong, in my basest, most sophomoric, and spiteful heart I understand the logic of killing Trump’s ratings or creating a disturbance to steal his spotlight away. I agree that we cannot allow the way that Trump has unapologetically demonized Latinx and Muslim immigrants, belittled women and the disabled, and thrown any constituency but his into the wood chipper to become “business as usual,” but as someone who is ready to dig their heels in and oppose literally every single contestable policy position and initiative, I don’t think turning a blind eye to Trump’s speech is an especially good idea.
In fact, it is the same kind of reality denial that leads to a debate about climate change. It is a refusal of facts. Neither as an informed citizen nor as a thoughtful teacher can I allow myself or subject my students to succumb to this kind of mindset. It is, to me, as morally abhorrent as the positions, statements, and opinions being protested.
My students are many of the things that the President-Elect has demonized. They are primarily Latinx hailing from Central America, South America, and Mexico. They live in a lower income neighborhood. They are public school students. Half of them will even one day be women. For a year and a half I have listened to fear, disgust, and ultimately defeat in the voices of my students–some of whom believe that INS will come busting through their walls and doors like Bruce Willis. They fear for their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, or themselves. They also fear the hatred and discrimination headed their way, even if they are natural born citizens or have legal immigration status.
My students understand, even at nine, ten, and eleven-years-old that there is an agenda that paints them as the root of America’s problem. While they cannot express this idea with the sophisticated political terminology that adults can, they know that they are being scapegoated and that they didn’t do anything except go to school and dare to trade Pokemon cards when they should be reading Bridge to Teribithia in their book clubs.
When I think about this idea to be willfully ignorant of Mr. Trump’s opening salvos into the Executive Branch, I remember my students and I wonder if I would consciously wish for them to be disarmed intellectually under any other circumstances. If there were a bill, proposition, or elected official who were any less cartoonish with the same presence in their minds would I sweep them under the rug…out of sight out of mind as to avoid “normalization”?
Not showing the Inauguration to my students simply isn’t an option. All politics aside, it is still a Presidential Inauguration and is the capstone to the first half of the year where they studied the candidates, learned about the Constitution and the branches of Government, watched the debates, had student government campaigns and elections, formed their own governments, and began petitioning school administration and organizing student events. It is still the beginning of a new Presidential Administration and Social Studies still has to happen.
It is important that they see that there are people who are excited for this change and that there are people who aren’t. They can decide which they want to be with my “failure” to avoid normalization because, for the record, there is nothing I can do to normalize this circus. Better instead to teach them to be jealously informed, insatiably aware, and powerfully critical. I will not erase current events or history in progress.
While teaching a lesson on Martin Luther King, Jr., where we used the most powerful words we heard to create a word matrix to write our own dreams for the future, I listened the “I Have A Dream” speech in its entirety and I marveled at how someone could give this exact speech today and it would hit just as hard. One hawk-eyed student noticed the goosebumps on my arms as Dr. King declared that America had written a check with insufficient funds.
Donald Trump’s address is America taking a long hard look at the overdraft of its bank account. The bill is past due and the check has bounced more times than any would like to count. If we’re ever going to get out of the red, we have to see exactly how deep into debt–not monetary debt but moral debt–the incoming Administration is willing to take us. My students have to be prepared to right the balance, and in keeping with the metaphor they can’t let the books be cooked while I shield them from the march of time.
I make a point to let my moral compass guide my practice as it does my politics and my true north is far from the route of implicit, covert, or willful indoctrination. My pedagogy is rooted in empowerment and I cannot see any path of shuttering the windows and sticking fingers in my students’ ears that will lead them to take the reins of the world and make it their own. Others might, for their own “sanity” sheild their fragile, hurt, feelings from accepting the reality of President Donald Trump. My students will not be offered the opportunity to tilt at windmills and fear the unknown. They’ll make their own decisions, develop their own conclusions, and actually make the world their own. They can decide for themselves what “business as usual” will be.