This week, hundreds of thousands of people will descend upon Washington for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.
Among the crowd: Teachers. Whether they’re there to support or protest Trump, to take their students to witness history or to see it for themselves, educators across the country are preparing to see the 45th president of the United States sworn in.
“I like taking kids to the inauguration because it’s such a patriotic, nationalistic sort of thing that you don’t even see on the Fourth of July. This is tradition,” said Anne McCanless, a social studies teacher from a public school in Charlotte, N.C., who is taking a group of 40 high school students to see Trump sworn into office. “This is real history happening, and they’re a part of it.”
McCanless took groups of students to both of Barack Obama’s inaugurations, in 2009 and 2013. This one, she and other teachers have said, feels a little different.
The 2016 presidential election between Republican Trump and Democratic standard-bearer Hillary Clinton was one of the most divisive in recent memory—and that divisiveness trickled into classrooms. Teachers reported spikes of name-calling and bullying, and increased fears among their students of color and students from immigrant backgrounds.
Trump is a polarizing figure, and while many students support him, many others were angry at his election, with thousands walking out of school around the country in protest the days after Election Day.
Since coordinating a school trip to Washington takes months, teachers said their students had to commit to going to the inauguration before they knew who the president-elect would be. This has helped remove any partisan elements from the trip, teachers say: Students of all political persuasions have signed up to see the inauguration, and even if they’re not happy with the results of the election, it is still a historical moment worth seeing.
“I told their parents we’re going no matter who wins,” said Benjamin Lewis, a social studies teacher from Brenham, Texas, who is taking 13 students to Washington this week. “This isn’t about one side or the other; it’s about democracy. It’s about a peaceful transfer of power. We’re here to celebrate America and how we choose our leader.”
Erik Walker, a high school English teacher from Plymouth, Mass., said his students were uncomfortable with both candidates, making it a tough election to teach.
“Maybe this inauguration is a good catharsis to see the peaceful transition of power,” he said. “Maybe it will lead to a healing moment for the country.”
Walker is taking about 40 students to Washington this week, along with Allison Shaver, a psychology teacher. Their goal of the trip, they said, is to get students excited about the political process and democracy.
“These kids are going to vote for the rest of their lives,” Shaver said. “They’re going to see that political transfer of power, and they’re going to be lifetime voters. That’s more important to us than Friday, Jan. 20.”
“I think I just want them to understand democracy a little bit more ... understand the importance of being vocal when you support or don’t support the candidate,” Shaver continued. “We need to instill that idea in our students, that voting is important and democracy is something that works if everyone participates.”
‘Room for Civil Discourse’
On Saturday, the day after the inauguration, about 200,000 people are expected to join the Women’s March on Washington to send a message to the Trump administration about upholding their civil rights.
Several teachers are traveling to Washington specifically for the march, which isn’t explicitly political and is not branded as a protest against Trump.
“I’m going to stand up for women’s rights, which are human rights,” said Bobby Dishell, a 6th grade humanities teacher in Baltimore. “It’s important for my students to see as a teacher, [civic action is] not something I just talk about. There is room for civil discourse.”
He said he plans on talking to his students about his experience at the march and discuss ways they can speak out about issues that matter to them.
“I really feel like it’s a powerful opportunity for modeling,” echoed Krista Taylor, a 7th and 8th grade intervention specialist at a Montessori school in Cincinnati, who is attending the march this weekend.
She said she frequently talks to her students about the importance of civic engagement and how they can uphold their own civil rights.
“Having them see me do it is much more powerful than hearing me talk about it,” she said.
Image: President-elect Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech during his election night rally on Nov. 9 in New York.—John Locher/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.