Teaching During The Election

Sol Borja

“The campaign is ruining a lot of classes,” Mr. Wathke said. “You have kids saying, ‘We need to have a wall to keep Mexicans out.’ Well, what do you do if you have kids who are Mexican in the class?”

As an educator training to become a guide in a child’s academic discovery, you spend a lot of the time thinking about what can be misleading your students’ understandings. As a history teacher, my overall objective is to help students achieve a general grasp of history, and be able to framework that history as the reason for why we live the way we live. This can be difficult when the vast majority of our country’s political discourses are completely un-educational. I’m reprimanded if I try to teach a student the meaning of inequality by allowing them to engage in “adult” political debates.  Why is this?

Frankly, this election has become a mockery of (even) America’s corrupt white supremacist democracy. To my students, I have to rationalize the value of all life as a tangential argument as to why the economy would fail under Trump. I hear my colleagues expounding the idea that immigrants are important to our country because they fulfill jobs that white American’s don’t want to do; that the floors of the very building U.S.-born children have the privilege of learning in wouldn’t be clean without the permitting of immigrant labor. While I listen in on these justifications for the amnesty of Latin Americans into the United States, I am internalizing an expectation that I myself never wanted to fulfill — and hope my fellow immigrant students don’t, either.

I am an immigrant working under a white woman.

I am taking (or hope to take) a job that historically belongs to white Americans.

And I am proud of it.

Immigrants are here and we’ve been here. It is over-simplifying to state that we are exclusively the working class that this country needs.

We are a country of (supposed) diversity. When faces of color start fulfilling positions as public servants, it only means our country is doing something right. Yes, immigrants should be taking the jobs of white Americans. And no, not because we are better, but because it means we are bridging a racial, social, and economic gap by broadening our skewed and implicitly racist expectations.

This is where I am at a standstill­­.

I refuse to oversimplify politics and social inequality to make privilege more digestible for a twelve-year-old who believes in Trump’s harmful rhetoric (or what his parents teach him). Yet, from my understanding of the craft of teaching, I can’t say what I need to say unless I want to tailor a year’s worth of curriculum to understanding the inaccuracy of our current election. It leaves me in a position where I cannot educationally guide a conversation around the election, because it sports a façade of professionality, when in reality, it is a completely false representation of our country’s economy, history and politics. I can’t guide a sensible and respectable Socratic discussion around hasty exaggerations, over simplifications (lies), racist/sexist stereotypes, misinterpretations, and distortions of current or past events. The only way — as an educator of history — I feel this current election should be spoken of, is as a concrete example of how modern politics have become empty.

How language (as a medium of politics) is meaningless without accurate or meaningful uses or discourses. How all that is political is meaningless without talking about the politics; Who it appeals to, why they use this language, what sentiments this language is meant to incite in the audience, and who the system is meant to benefit.

It is a lot more complicated, even, than I have made it seem. The point is, as an educator in 2016, talking about the election is a disservice because of the amount of misunderstandings it gives our children. Trump does not create safe spaces, and the recent unearthing of his “locker room” talk certainly proves this. The point of emphasis in this national conversation has to be re-directed from the candidates’ rhetoric, to the actual understanding of the problems within our current example of a democracy.


Image by Bianka Bell

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