Last week at the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump Jr. had some thoughts about school and teachers. The response was virtually immediate (here, here, and here are just some examples.) That push back is powerful, important, and firmly in the wheelhouse of when and how the profession rises up with one voice: disparage us and we’ll tell you how and why you’re wrong.
At the same time, there is the painful reality that some teachers were watching that convention and making the decision to vote for Trump come November. Therein lies a tough, sticky conundrum: How does or should the field respond to teachers who support Trump? What does it take to change the mind of someone who will vote for a racist, sexist, egomaniac and then stand in front of a group of children the next day?
There are two things that suggest not all teachers are Team #NeverTrump. First, there are about 3 million full-time teachers. Of those teachers, about 85% are white. Those large numbers combined with polls that show Trump’s support is almost exclusively from white voters suggest there would be overlap. On the other hand, it may be that the percentage of Trump supporters among teachers would be lower than among white voters in general due to teachers’ level of education. There’s also the gender factor – Trump’s fans are mostly male. Teachers are mostly female.
Then there’s the teachers who openly share their Trump love. From Facebook and Twitter to lawn signs, there are educators putting their thoughts and opinions out there as to why Donald J. Trump is best equipped to lead the country for the next four years. @TeachersforTrump has 805 followers, many of whom have teacher in their bio. A drop in the bucket in terms of registered voters – but in terms of counts of children they’ll interact with? That’s not a small number.
I’ve seen reasons for a willingness to support Trump that range from rationalizations, justifications, and explanations about his flaws to a focus on his unique approach to the world. Another common reason? Apparently, Hillary Clinton was spawned by the devil and is the worst politician to ever politic and voting for her is worse than voting for Trump. So casting a vote for Trump isn’t a vote *for* Trump, it’s a vote *against* Hillary. (I’m paraphrasing. Perhaps a bit flippantly. Mostly because I’m pretty firmly in line with this guy.)
Talking about politics can be messy and complicated. Talking about teachers and politics and Trump is asking for a complicated word soup. At the same time, if the profession can respond so forcefully, quickly, and vocally when insulted, what would it take for a similar response to a man who has insulted – many times – the children who sit in the nation’s classrooms?
Some are speaking up. Diane Ravitch was explicit about why she’s casting her vote and it seems like an argument any teacher should be able to get behind. AFT and NEA both gave raving endorsements to Clinton. I’m hopeful Clinton will be elected and, for the first time in my adult life, am engaging in political conversations in public. I hope we’ll see a wide-spread rebuking of the RNC platform and Trump’s message. I hope the American public declares with one voice come November that we will not repeat mistakes of the past and let hateful men dictate our country’s direction by reflecting back the worst of us.
Hope, though, isn’t enough this time around. Normally, I would work my hardest to seek to understand. I would do my best to fight against stereotyping Trump supporters and to approach conversations or thinking from a place of empathy and shared ground. On this topic, though, that resource manna is depleted. I got nothing. As always, I’m happy to engage and discuss but on this matter, I’ll be doing it with one hand tied behind my back. I will not change my vote and I cannot understand casting a vote for Trump.