Teachers, at least two former education secretaries, and others with links to education are speaking out about President Donald Trump’s executive order issued Friday that suspends refugee admissions into the U.S. for 120 days, bars all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, and indefinitely bans refugees from Syria.
For Rachel Rowan, a high school social studies teacher in Prince George’s County schools in Maryland, the controversy happens to match up with her lessons: This week, Rowan told us, she’ll be discussing the U.S. Constitution’s Article II (the section governing the powers of the presidency) and what exactly executive orders are. And she said she’ll be emphasizing to them that “looking at different perspectives is often the most productive thing they can do with an issue” to learn about it and understand it. (We spoke with Rowan while she was on her way to attend a demonstration near the U.S. Capitol against the nomination of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to be education secretary.)
Among other questions, she’ll be asking her students, “Do you think the people who support that policy think of themselves as racist?”
Rowan also said she has refugee students in her classroom, but that she doesn’t want to single them out in the current climate: “Some offer their experiences. Some of them I know because they have confided in me. ... I don’t put students on the spot to talk about heir personal experiences.”
As with many teachers, she also has to navigate tricky political terrain: Most of her students lean liberal or favor Democrats in some fashion, Rowan said. "[Trump’s actions] don’t align with the politics of my classroom right now,” Rowan said.
Also on her way to the DeVos protest was Jaime Goldman, a middle school English teacher in Silver Spring, Md. She said she planned to have her students read Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” that is on the pedestal of the statute of liberty during her class on Monday. Like Rowan, she said she works in a diverse school where students have opinions about these issues. Goldman said she tries “to make it clear that all opinions are welcome. But I try to share the facts.”
“That’s the way I think I have influence and power to effect kids and make them think about what’s happening around them,” Goldman said of sharing literary work like Lazarus’. “I can’t tell them, I’m not allowed to say, ‘I don’t support this.’ But I try to present fiction texts, non-fictions texts, poetry, songs, to set an example and help that way.”
In November, Education Week photographers put together a photo gallery of Syrian refugee students and their adjustments to classrooms in the U.S. At the time. the U.S. Department of State estimated that of the 11,000 refugees admitted to the country over the previous year, 60 percent were children.
Just over a year ago, we also wrote about the U.S. Department of Education’s January 2016 guidance to schools to make Musliam, Arab, and refugee students in general feel welcome. (On the other hand, in the wake of Trump’s executive order, some observers have pointed out that former President Barack Obama’s administration stopped processing refugees from Iraq for six months in 2011 after concerns arose about Iraqi terrorists infiltrating the U.S.)
And a 2016 study focused on the challenges refugee children face, and how those obstacles are often linked to parents’ understanding, or lack thereof, of their local school system.
Here’s some other reaction we picked up after the refugee and travel ban went into effect. Former Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. called on others in the education community to oppose Trump’s action.
— John King (@JohnBKing) January 29, 2017
King’s predecessor, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, had a similar message:
No one wakes up saying, “I want to be a refugee”.
They are fleeing for their lives.
We fight for them & for our own humanity.#NoBanNoWall
— Arne Duncan (@arneduncan) January 29, 2017
DeVos hadn’t posted about this on Twitter as of early Monday. We haven’t seen messages about this on social media from former secretaries Lauro Cavazos, William Bennett, Richard Riley, Rod Paige, or Margaret Spellings.
However, Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute sounded a somewhat different note. He argued that students should be taught to “imagine this power in the hands of your worst enemy” and that such executive actions are problematic regardless of which party is in power.
The best time to be upset by overuse of executive orders is when YOUR party’s POTUS is the one wielding the pen.
— Robert Pondiscio (@rpondiscio) January 29, 2017
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., a member of the House education committee, said the ban from Trump is just pragmatism:
I have long called for suspension of refugee program while we can’t properly screen applicants. Must know they are who they say they are.
— Rep. Lou Barletta (@RepLouBarletta) January 28, 2017
And the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank that supports school choice and a more limited role for Washington in schooling, said Trump’s action is being blown out of proportion.
The hysterical rhetoric about President Trump’s executive order on refugees is out of control. Let’s slow down and take a look at the facts. https://t.co/pQvU2X3QlJ
— Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) January 28, 2017
Meanwhile, American Federations of Teachers President Randi Weingarten highlighted her participation in protests around the country against the ban.
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) January 29, 2017
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García had the following statement: “Educators oppose these ill-conceived, hateful actions because they are a drastic departure from our core American values. We don’t teach hate, we do not tell people how to pray, and we do not ban people based on their religion.”
Matt Barnum of the 74, an advocacy and news organization, made a clear link between Trump’s preferred education policy and his actions on Friday.
Someone should tell Trump that immigration is just like #schoolchoice but for countries.
— Matt Barnum (@matt_barnum) January 29, 2017
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee gave her support to refugees.
Thank you to everyone gathering today in support of our friends & neighbors who for generations have come to America seeking refuge.
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) January 29, 2017
And her counterpart, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education committee chairman, also questioned the ban, saying it was poorly executed and came close to an improper religious test.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which advocates for students’ civil rights and a strong federal oversight role in education, registered its opposition to the ban:
— Civil Rights (@civilrightsorg) January 29, 2017
Also check out our colleague Corey Mitchell’s look at how a Minnesota district handled an influx of children from Somalia, one of the seven countries from which immigration to the U.S. is temporarily banned.
Photos: Ahad Al Haj Ali, 10, sits in a class for refugee students (Christine Armario/AP); Jaime Goldman, left, a teacher in Silver Spring, MD., and Karen Levush, a former teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools, on their way to a protest against Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary.