Social Studies

Trump’s Latest Indictment: 4 Takeaways for Educators

By Libby Stanford — August 04, 2023 4 min read
This artist sketch depicts former President Donald Trump, center, conferring with defense lawyer Todd Blanche, left, during his appearance at the Federal Courthouse in Washington on Aug. 3, 2023, as Trump defense lawyer John Lauro faces U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya. Special Prosecutor Jack Smith sits at far left. Trump pleaded not guilty in Washington’s federal court to charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election.
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The latest indictment of former President Donald Trump presents an opportunity for teachers and educators to talk about yet another set of unprecedented current events with students.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice released a 45-page, four-count indictment of Trump, charging the former president with conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, obstructing the peaceful transfer of power, and threatening American democracy through his role in misinformation campaigns that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol.

The case is the third set of criminal charges brought against Trump in the past four months, and it comes at a time when Trump is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The situation opens the door for more historically and civically important questions than answers—namely, what happens when a former president is charged with a crime, and what if that president is elected to the position again?

But the indictment is not the first time teachers have had to tackle difficult, unprecedented, or worrisome current events with their students in the past few years.

Here’s what teachers can consider as they prepare lessons and brace for questions from curious students.

The indictment and court case present an opportunity for lessons on misinformation, government, and civics

Tuesday’s indictment directly relates to the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, with the latter event propelled by misinformation on the former.

Following the Jan. 6 insurrection, teachers told Education Week that they were using the event as an opportunity to teach students how to verify sources, check an author’s credentials, and critically think about the information and news they consume.

One 8th grade teacher prompted students with specific questions surrounding news and social media messages about the riot: Who created the message and how might people interpret it differently, depending on their beliefs?

Trump’s indictment and the social media reaction to it present an opportunity for teachers to bring up those questions once again, giving students the chance to mull over the information they’re hearing about Trump and the news surrounding him.

The indictment also gives teachers a chance to talk through important facets of society and constitutional principles, including democratic elections, the peaceful transfer of power, the judicial system, and presidential responsibilities.

Teachers can use the indictment as a way to put those topics into context and help students make sense of what’s happening around them.

Teachers should allow students to share their emotions surrounding historic events

The indictment’s connection to the Capitol riot and the uncertainty surrounding how court cases against Trump will play out may bring up emotions for students, especially as they are the latest set of unparalleled events since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the events could create the space for lessons on managing emotions.

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence created a free online course for educators of all grade levels titled “Managing Emotions in Times of Uncertainty & Stress.”

Social-emotional learning experts told Education Week that helping students identify their feelings is crucial when responding to new events. It’s also important, however, for educators to not make assumptions about how students feel about changing news and instead investigate their feelings and moods.

One of the best ways to do this is by providing students with a space to share their feelings through writing prompts and open class discussions.

See Also

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.
Pro-Trump rioters try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol.
John Minchillo/AP
Student Well-Being Caring for Students in the Wake of a Traumatic News Event
Evie Blad, January 6, 2021
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Teachers may be wary of touching on polarizing current events

Trump’s third indictment comes as many children return to school from summer break and at a time when teachers have faced increasing pressure to avoid talking in school about politics or concepts considered divisive.

At least two states—Texas and Kentucky—have laws specifically limiting how teachers discuss politics or current events. Even so, experts on social studies education agree that it’s important to discuss current events with students to help them grow into critical thinkers.

The indictment provides an opportunity for teachers to talk about broad concepts including the judicial process, political campaigns, and presidential history without showing their biases or putting themselves in danger of being reprimanded for discussing something of a political nature.

Experts told Education Week that the best course of action for social studies and civics teachers is to look at their state standards and tailor conversations about the indictment to those standards. It can also be helpful to communicate the details of planned classroom lessons surrounding the indictment with parents so there isn’t any confusion about what students will be taught.

See Also

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. Trump will deliver remarks Tuesday, April 4, in Florida after his scheduled arraignment in New York on charges related to hush money payments, his campaign announced Sunday.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. Trump will deliver remarks Tuesday, April 4, in Florida after his scheduled arraignment in New York on charges related to hush money payments, his campaign announced Sunday.
Alex Brandon/AP

The case offers a chance to discuss the value and pitfalls of social media

Trump’s indictment is only the latest example of an event with the potential to get caught up in social media disinformation.

Teachers can play a role in ensuring students have the right tools to talk about the indictment, the Jan. 6 insurrection, and presidential elections by facilitating lessons on how to use social media responsibly.

Teachers told Education Week that they used the Jan. 6 insurrection as an opportunity to discuss the realities of social media algorithms and the ways in which social media platforms can keep users in an echo chamber of their own beliefs and opinions.

Teachers can walk students through exercises to fact-check social media posts and think critically about the motivations or biases held by people who post about the indictment to help build responsible social media skills.

See Also

Image of the Capitol building shown in a rearview mirror.
Macrocosm Photography/E+
Curriculum 6 Ways to Help Students Make Sense of the Capitol Siege
Sarah Schwartz & Madeline Will, January 13, 2021
15 min read

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