We teachers are not new to hearing our profession be disparaged. You’ve heard the insults, too, including, “those who can’t, teach.” You’ve heard people ask, “Why should teachers be paid more since they get their summers off?” Or, someone claim that our day starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. That’s a joke! These misperceptions are generally easy to counter, and we usually do so with a calm “teacher voice.”
That is, until this week: A rather striking insult to the profession came from a not-so surprising source, Donald Trump Jr. On Monday, at a rally to support his father’s long-promised border wall in El Paso, Texas, Mr. Trump Jr. stated, “I love seeing some young conservatives because I know it’s not easy. Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it. Because you can think for yourselves. They can’t.”
With this soundbite, Mr. Trump Jr. made teachers an enemy to his father's base, just as the president has done with journalists."
“Loser teachers? Loser teachers! LOSER TEACHERS!” I yelled at the television, careful, though, not to awaken my sleeping preschool-age son and 1st grade daughter in the next room. I watched the clip again later to see how the audience responded—they clapped and cheered. With this sound bite, Mr. Trump Jr. made teachers an enemy to his father’s base, just as the president has done with journalists. I am realistic enough to know that it is highly unlikely that Mr. Trump Jr. will read what I have to say. On the other hand, teachers are highly optimistic people. And, so, if you are in fact reading this, sir, have a seat, take out a notebook, and prepare to be schooled.
1. I am a teacher and a liberal Democrat. I believe in health care for all and higher living wages. I also believe that public education is a social good, not a market-driven exercise. So, if that makes me a socialist, so be it.
2. In spite of my deeply held personal beliefs, I do not talk about them with my students or mention them in my lessons. I do not have the time or space to promulgate political doctrine. I am teaching my students to become critical thinkers. And as a library media specialist, I am teaching my students why the credibility of sources and the use of facts matter. My classroom does not resemble a Trump-style rally. When I speak, my students do not clap or cheer in response. They listen. They question. They search to find their own answers.
3. When you call us “losers” who “indoctrinate” students in “socialism,” not only are you insulting teachers, you are grossly underestimating American students. They are already familiar with many of the problems with our society. They’ve seen and experienced injustice first hand.
Allow me to cite a few examples:
In 2017, Illinois’ then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, decided to decrease funding to Chicago public schools. Our principal explained to our school community that the impending millions of dollars in budget cuts would translate into losing teachers. How did our students react? They rallied. They figured out how to fundraise and stage a walk-out. When Democrat Forrest Claypool, the former CEO of our schools, held a press conference at our school over funding (months prior to being ousted), our students staged a sit-in. They doubted his sincerity. When Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted, they stormed outside and performed a die-in, hoodies up—a violation of several school rules. In other words, they are capable of thinking for themselves. And they certainly cannot be indoctrinated. They don’t see the world in partisan terms—Democrat, Republican, or Socialist. When you insult us, you also insult them.
4. Finally, when you tell young conservatives to “fight” us, you are setting up a losing gender battle. According to the Brookings Institute, 75 percent of teachers in the United States are women; in fact, in 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that teaching was the most common occupation for women. In 2018’s midterm elections, women voted more for Democrats than they did for Republicans. Calling teachers “losers” will only move that needle more toward the Democrat side.
A familiar saying that my parents taught me and that my elementary school teachers reinforced—one that you might also have heard: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. But they also taught me to stand up to bullies.
As any teacher worth her salt would do, I offer you, Mr. Trump Jr., a path forward. Prepare for a fight of your own. Teachers in this country will not be intimidated.