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Donald Trump’s Conviction: 3 Takeaways for Educators

By Libby Stanford — May 31, 2024 4 min read
Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court during jury deliberations in his criminal hush money trial in New York, on May 30, 2024.
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For the first time in U.S. history, a former president has been convicted of felony crimes, and K-12 teachers will likely have to contend with a few questions from students as the nation comes to terms with the verdict.

On May 30, a New York jury convicted former President Donald Trump on all 34 counts of falsifying business records to illegally influence the 2016 election. The conviction marks the conclusion of the first of four criminal trials Trump is facing.

The former president’s sentencing date is July 11, four days before the Republican National Convention, where delegates are expected to formally nominate Trump as their candidate in the November presidential election.

The conviction has propelled the U.S. political system into uncharted territory, presenting an opportunity for educators to talk to students about elections, the judicial system, and how to evaluate different information and opinions they hear in traditional media, on social media, and in conversations.

Here’s what educators can do to ensure that conversations about the trial are productive and educational, based on the recommendations of teachers and curriculum experts.

1. Use the opportunity for lessons on government, politics, and evaluating biases

Trump’s conviction has no impact on his ability to run for president, and he immediately ramped up fundraising and campaigning following the trial’s conclusion.

Teachers can use the moment as a way to talk about the judicial system, democratic elections, and presidential responsibilities. What was once a hypothetical question—what would happen if a major candidate for president were a convicted felon?—is no longer hypothetical, and teachers and students will be able to watch it play out together.

It’s also not the first time in recent years that teachers have had to navigate an unprecedented event. Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the Jan. 6 insurrection, teachers told Education Week such events present an opportunity to talk about falsehoods and misinformation.

Because students will hear comments on the verdict from a variety of sources and perspectives, teachers can use the verdict to talk to students about how to verify what they’re hearing, check an author’s or speaker’s credentials, and think critically about the information and news they consume on social media and from other channels.

A good place to start, teachers say, is by asking students to look at social media posts and answer questions about each one: Who created this message, and how might people interpret it differently depending on their beliefs?

Donald Trump, far left, watches as jury foreperson #1 delivers guilty verdicts with judge Juan Merchan listening on the bench in Manhattan Criminal Court on May 30, 2024, in New York. Donald Trump became the first former president to be convicted of felony crimes as a New York jury found him guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through hush money payments to a porn actor who said the two had sex.

2. Teachers should foster productive discussion and allow students to share emotions

Trump’s conviction, the uncertainty of what happens next, and the variety of commentary they hear about it may bring out some confusion among students.

Social-emotional learning experts told Education Week that it’s crucial to help students identify their emotions in the wake of major news events.

Teachers can do this by opening class discussions or giving students writing prompts that allow them to share their thoughts and feelings on the conviction. Teachers should be prepared to support students to express views with which they, or other students, may not agree.

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence has a free online course for educators of all grade levels titled “Managing Emotions in Times of Uncertainty & Stress” that can provide tools to navigate those challenges.

3. Teachers can use their state’s academic standards to guide discussions even where laws limit such discussions

Teachers in some states may be wary of talking about Trump’s conviction because of laws limiting discussions about divisive topics. At least two states—Kentucky and Texas—specifically limit how teachers can talk about politics and current events.

Texas’ Partisanship out of Civics Act, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in 2021, prohibits teachers from “being compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” If a teacher does choose to discuss a such a topic, they must “strive to explore that topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

Kentucky’s law, which passed in 2022 over the objections of the state’s Democratic governor, requires “instruction or instructional materials on current, controversial topics related to public policy or social affairs” to be “relevant, objective, nondiscriminatory, and respectful to the differing perspectives of students.”

The laws don’t define some key terms, such as “controversial.”

Such restrictions don’t mean teachers in those states should avoid mentioning the trial altogether, however. They can talk about broad, related concepts such as the judicial system, branches of government and division of powers, political campaigns, and presidential history.

The best thing to do, experts told Education Week, is to look at state standards and tailor conversations about the conviction accordingly.

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