February 20, 2017

Can Teachers Speak the Truth about Donald Trump?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Consider this statement: Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, is a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot who constantly tells lies and makes wildly misleading claims.

I offer this statement not as an accusation against the President but as an assertion. It is not based on what Trump’s advisors call “alternative facts” but is based on actual verifiable facts. And it is not the subjective opinion of a left-leaning professor but is an objective truth that can be unequivocally demonstrated and proven.

If you listen to Donald Trump’s words, observe his actions, and follow what his spokespeople say, then it is seemingly impossible to disprove this statement. But not everyone accepts it. People may deny it because they don’t want to admit it is true, they may downplay it because they deem these points insignificant, or they may discredit the messenger because the statement conflicts with their political agenda. Despite these attempts at repudiation, the evidence that supports the veracity of this statement is overwhelming: Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot who tells one lie after another.

Now can you imagine a public school teacher walking into a classroom, making this statement to the students, and using it as the basis for a lesson? I posed this question to some teachers and parents and their responses were all the same: Absolutely not! If a teacher made this statement there would very likely be an immediate backlash from students, parents, other teachers, administrators, the school board, and the local community. If a journalist covered the story then politicians would probably chime in. Maybe even Donald Trump himself would Tweet his displeasure and call for the teacher to be fired. And in some school districts the teacher might actually be fired or at the very least face disciplinary action.

But consider the flip side of this scenario: If any teachers said or did the things that Donald Trump has done—such as call Mexican rapists, grab women’s genitals, mock a person with disabilities, or refer to women as fat, ugly, and unattractive—they would likely be suspended or fired. So teachers face serious consequences if they say or do as Trump does because it is generally agreed upon that such actions are inappropriate and reprehensible (even illegal). But if teachers speak truthfully about Trump’s inappropriate and reprehensible behaviors they may face severe consequences.                                    

And this is not only an issue for K-12 public school teachers. Even in my world of higher education where professors are supposed to have more autonomy and academic freedom is touted as sacrosanct, many of my colleagues would be uncomfortable making this statement in class for the exact same reason: fear of what repercussions they would face. But again, if any professor acted Trump-like in their interactions with students and colleagues they would be in serious trouble.

What is going on here? Why can’t teachers speak honestly about the President? If there is consensus among educators that his actions are offensive and unacceptable, and if we can use Trump’s own words to establish how he is a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot who lies, then why can’t we talk about him in a direct and straightforward manner? Why must we fear reprisals or even risk losing our jobs for telling the truth?

Here is one more thing to consider. Most educational institutions from kindergarten through graduate school have mission statements or strategic visions. If you read these, and I encourage you to read the one for your school, you will probably see references to some of the following themes: tolerance, equality, and respect for all; a safe, welcoming, and inviting environment free from discrimination and bullying; the rigorous and scientific pursuit of truth and knowledge; and the development of critical, flexible, and independent thinking.

What does it mean if the most powerful person in the United States is blatantly and unabashedly rejecting the guiding morals and values of most of the country’s schools? Don’t teachers have an obligation to discuss this with students, much like they do when they witness student infractions of these principles? Is there no better teachable moment than when the President of the United States goes against much of what our schools are trying to teach, promote, and instill in students?

To begin to understand why teachers cannot speak truthfully about Trump we need to recognize that education is a social institution. Like all social institutions, the educational system is comprised of roles and statuses that people fill, patterned ways of acting that guide behavior, and organizational structures that provide parameters for maintaining stability, continuity, and control.

The last point about preserving control is especially important. As Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann point out in their classic book, The Social Construction of Reality, “Institutions, by the very fact of their existence, control human conduct by setting up predefined patterns of conduct, which channel it in one direction against the many other directions that would theoretically be possible.”

Berger and Luckmann go on to say that the way people behave in social institutions is usually not spontaneous nor is it instantaneous. Our actions within social institutions are the result of years of socialization, or what they call habitualization—a fancy word referring to actions that are repeated so frequently that they become the common and accepted way of doing things.

It has become habitual to not talk about politics in schools. Some schools even have “predefined patterns of conduct” which prohibit educators from engaging in partisan political speech. And even if there is no official rule disallowing such talk, most educators have learned to censor themselves and abstain from saying anything that might sound remotely political.  

It is understandable why teachers may want to avoid partisan political talk; they do not want to pressure students into accepting their beliefs. But the statement at the top of this post is not about partisan politics; it is about people and principles. Educators do not want students to discriminate, disrespect, or demean others by being racist, sexist, xenophobic, or bigoted. We also do not want students to tell lies and make exaggerated claims about reality. Encouraging these ideals among students is not a reflection of what it means to be a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent; it is a reflection of what it means to be a human being in American society.

Berger and Luckmann leave us with one last important point to consider. Although social institutions may seem like they are rigid, enduring, and unchanging we cannot forget that they are human products. More importantly, we must recognize that even the social control mechanisms that constrain our behaviors are socially created. Berger and Luckmann are explicit about this point: “Social order exists only as a product of human activity . . . and [only] insofar as human activity continues to produce it.”

Knowing that we have the potential to recreate our social institutions can be both affirming and frightening. Any teacher who speaks candidly and states that Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, xenophobic, bigot who lies constantly will most likely be vulnerable to professional and personal attacks. But if we want to create a new social order that genuinely reflects the principles and values that guide so many of our educational institutions then we have no choice. We must find our voices, express ourselves loudly and clearly, and speak truth to power.

Comments

Mister Kaufman is some aspects you are right in my opinion. Racism, sexism, xenophobia and of course lies are poisons for all of us. But teachers duty is, as you said, the development of critical, flexible and independent thinking. So how can they lead students thought to one and only perspective? I think that they have to learn how to question everything, even their teachers opinions, ask 'why' for all of the things and then form an opinion by their own, not only for Trump, but for all the presidents and the history and politics in general. And the most important... They have to learn to kids how to love and respect even the ones that hate them. Or else war begins. Biopower is the enemy.

Great blog post. Important questions. I would hope that sociologists would be comfortable speaking truth to power and once there are sociological principles on which to evaluate speech and behavior, these can be applied in a non-partisan way (what I call "principled non-partisanship) on which leaders and policies, both Democratic and Republican, can be the subject of sociological criticism and these criticisms can be made directly by the instructor, or students can apply the principles and come to their own assessment.

The institutional norm of objectivity, indifference, impartiality does not work for me under the current conditions.

My approach is to let students know from the start what the principles are that I value and where these will take me. Many are core aspects of sociology derived from the radical enlightenment. I have no problem telling students that a sociological perspective and imagination has political implications. This is simply a fact. Let's not disguise our political commitments, as for examples most economists do, behind abstract theorizing and technical models.

gerat post,
this is quite truth, i honestly agree on all it. Most of people consider teaching is a similar job to others but this not correct as it is more than that, and fixing the way we teach kids is the key behind building strong societies.
i enjoyed reading.
keep sharing

This is a great post. I agree that teachers should be able to teach about these topics. It is important for younger students to know how to be a good person. Teachers should reference other famous people as well. It is important for younger students to know about the people they idealize.

This is what a non-leftists would say in response to your blog: Your arguments are dishonest, and they contain loads of logical fallacies. One: Calling some illegal immigrants rapists and criminals is not the same as calling all immigrants rapists and criminals; it also does not equate to racism, especially since "immigrant" is not a race, and not only Hispanic individuals cross the southern border illegally. I think it is a little racist to assume that when someone mentions immigrants, they are talking only about Hispanics. Two: Insulting a woman is not inherently sexist, just as insulting a man is not inherently sexist. Saying that women are inferior to men would be sexist, however, Trump did not do that. It would appear you are suggesting that it is OK to insult men but not women… that is actual sexism. Three: It is OK for a man to grab a woman’s vagina, with consent of course, and I’m sure many teachers have had some contact with this area of the female body (maybe not you though). I don’t get why you would think a teacher couldn’t have sexual relations; that is definitely permissible. Four: Xenophobic? I don’t think someone who advocates for the enforcement of immigration policy warrants the label of xenophobe. Perhaps you disagree and that’s fine, but I doubt you disagreed when Bill Clinton did it. Five: “Now can you imagine a public school teacher walking into a classroom, making this statement to the students, and using it as the basis for a lesson”. Are you kidding me? Are you actually comparing the job of a teacher to someone running for public office? This so blatantly ridiculous that I’m not going to even bother addressing it fully; I’m sure just pointing it out is good enough. Now, take a moment to think about what a leftist would say in response to your blog. You actually don’t have to. To quote one of your comments: “Great blog post. Important questions. I would hope that sociologists would be comfortable speaking truth to power and once there are sociological principles on which to evaluate speech and behavior…” In short sir, this is the reason why teachers shouldn’t do what you are suggesting. What you are suggesting as facts are actually your opinions. A teacher should present unbiased lessons and be as impartial as possible. Teachers should teach facts, not opinions. When you begin to teach opinions and feelings as if they are facts that is called indoctrination. Whether or not you would agree on what content could be considered such is outside the point. Let students make up their own minds on politics. Present facts only. Do not disguise feelings and opinions as facts as you are doing here. I would expect an education professional such as yourself to have a bit more common sense. Allowing the left do this will allow the right to this. By the way, I'm an atheist, and a Bernie supporter. Please don't think I'm on the right.

I know that Trump is all about Racism, sexism, xenophobia he just don't know how that will workout to America and in Elementary School like teacher that can know the facts and I like Bernie Sanders that he support about this and it make common sense that teachers don't have to learns too much lesson in the classroom.

This is an interesting topic and one I consider everytime I stand in front of my intro classes.

I have started looking at news headlines from the NPR website every time I start a new chapter to see what is current and relates to the topic we are studying. That way if comments are generated they at least begin as a reaction to something other than a statement I might make. I'd like to say that this is successful, but I was asked why I was biased against Trump when we looked at a news story pointing out the SPLC's reported raise in hate crimes after the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. I told the student that I was in no way saying that trump was responsible for the rise in hate crimes, but he is the president and this is happening under his watch and that last year under Obama's watch mt classes discussed the BLM movement nad related stories. He seemed mildly satisfied with that explanation, but I also told my students at the beginning of the semester that it is impossible to study society and social change without including the formal and informal social policy coming out of Washington DC. Trump is an elephant in our classrooms.

Thank you, Charlie, for making the author's point.

Do you still think Trump mocked a handicapped person?

Question for class: Why was this article interesting to you? My response:This article was very interesting to me. I got to read about a total left wing professor that hates trump and his opinion on the “truth”. Sounds like an oxymoron right? Opinion on the truth. I say that because it was very very hard to take that article serious. It sounds like Peter only read liberal news headlines that try to draw a reader's attention and thought the headlines were facts. He says “truth” but yet he says so many false things. He says that Donald Trump called Mexicans rapists. If you actually take time to read or listen to what Donald Trump actually says, it's more then obvious that he is referring to illegal aliens from Mexico. Apparently Peter thinks that trump literally called all mexicans rapists. Here's an interesting fact, one of the two teenagers accused of raping a 14 year old girl at rockville high school a little while ago was actually here illegally! Would you look at that? What trump said definitely does not apply to a huge fraction of illegal immigrants and maybe it was a little harsh or could of been worded a little differently, but he does have some fact behind what he says. Someone may argue that “anyone could've raped a girl, it's not like only illegals do it”. Well they are right, and who ever rapes someone should be put to jail for a really long time, but it doesn't mean we should open the whole world up to it! Peter also claims that trump has grabbed a woman's genitals. I'm not sure if he is referring to Trump's vulgar statement 11 years ago, or the few woman that came out right before he got elected and said that Trump has sexually assaulted them, but i have news for Peter. I'm not excusing what trump said, but trump said “could”, and not “I did”. Those two phrases are completely different. You can't just say that something trump said he theoretically could of done 11 years ago is something he actually did. With the woman that came out and said that trump sexually assaulted them, no one took that investigation seriously and it went no where because it's obvious that they were lying or either paid to say those things. Thats why hes not in jail. If peter actually thinks that he knows the “truth”, then i'm sorry to say but he's lying to himself big time.

good work..

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