School Climate & Safety Opinion

School Leaders Worry: What Is President Trump Teaching Our Youth?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 27, 2017 4 min read
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When the President Trump uses the words “hell” and “cesspool”, encourages scouts to boo a previous president (who was a Boy Scout), expresses disdain for his Attorney General and his defeated opponent, and relies on hyperbole as if it were truth, what is he teaching? When he asserts that he is being presidential, what does that mean? What are the Boy Scouts and other young people learning about behaviors that are acceptable from those with power and influence? These are the ones we use as models, right?

Trump violated the Boy Scout Oath in his speech. But, then, he was never a Boy Scout. The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, and New York Magazine are just three national publications who covered the disconnect between the behavior of the POTUS and the values of the audience to whom he was addressing. This audience was filled with Boy Scouts from across the nation. This is an annual highlight, drawing youth from across the nation. Attending the annual Jamboree celebrates the values the Boy Scouts teach and hold dear. What will remain in the minds of these young men who were in this year’s audience? What will take hold in their behavior? It will depend on their troop leaders and parents, of course, but they have had a personal encounter with the POTUS and it will form a lifetime memory.

In schools we teach respect for position. We teach children that a teacher and a school leader hold a position that demands respect. We expect teachers and school leaders to earn that respect by modeling it. Now, in September, students return, some of them from the Boy Scout Jamboree, after a summer of chaotic action and demeaning rhetoric.The concept of truth has vanished and facts are all in question. The Jamboree has been historically about values, not politics nor personal aggrandizement. There are those who thought the campaigner would become a different person if he won. We now know, if there is a difference, it has only been to magnify the platform on which lack of regard for others can be displayed. We are living in a changed environment. Who would have thought it could have happened this fast? Say whatever comes to mind, be hurtful and exaggerate without consequence and maybe even break a law or two, put person above principle, and espouse loyalty as the highest value. He has disregard for the impact he was has on the youth of our nation or for the dignity and decorum of the past. We, of course, knew he was a chaos leader and wanted to take things apart but we didn’t anticipate the unrelentingness of his capacity to offend and destroy. He has a fire in his belly for it that is fed only by a loyalty that borders on adoration.

A Need to Renew Character Education

In the 1990’s character education made its way into schools. Six traits were highlighted as schools embraced the development of character across school buildings and districts. Those characteristics are: Trustworthiness; Respect; Responsibility; Fairness; Caring; and Citizenship.

...Instill a positive school climate for students and a “culture of kindness” making schools a safe environment for students to learn.

The Six Pillars of Character values are not political, religious, or culturally biased. In fact, every year since 1995 our program has been officially recognized and endorsed in a National Proclamation by the U.S. Senate and The President of the United States (CharacterCounts.org).

If this value and process has not remained central in practice, it is time to renew it. If it has never been a consciously communicated value and practice, now is the time for committing to it. How will we maintain civility in our schools without acknowledging civility is being challenged daily by speeches and tweets from the holder of the highest office in the land?

Thankfully there has been mounting push back from parents and Boy Scouts themselves, The Week reports. There is hope percolating that we needed this challenge to again discover who we are as a people and what we really value. But we have written before and continue to hold concern about the seeping into schools of this new low for behavior. We cannot, however, depend upon the values and actions of parents only. This is a moment for leaders and teachers and parents alike to recommit to values of school communities. In what kind of environment can young people learn, be held in high regard, and have respectful interactions with adults and other young people who hold different values and have different experiences.

Without serious thought and action, schools might find themselves reeling from growing numbers of behavior referrals. Discipline is not the best first stop in teaching civility, responsibility, respect, trust, fairness, caring and citizenship. Leaders can take time for serious reflection and public recommitment to the values for behavior. There are those who were taken aback from the POTUS’s remarks to the Boy Scouts. We can start there. Beginning the year with a focus, not on what is wrong in the behavior of the POTUS, but on what values the school community needs to hold dear, models, and celebrates.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.