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It's Time for Teachers to Take Some of the Blame for Trump

It’s been nearly a month since the election and I’m still not over it. I’ve probably gone through the full spectrum of emotions. Some of my teacher friends were tugging at me to speak or write my reactions immediately afterwards, but it just was too soon. The language was too raw, my attitude too combative. But I’m ready now. After much thought and reflection, all I’m able to muster at this point is an apology. That’s right, I am sorry. As an educator, I can’t help but feel this election is emblematic of our failure as a sector to prepare the populace for self-government. Nobody is exempt here. Traditional public or charter, homeschool or private, this one is on everybody. I was talking to one of my colleagues and fellow state teachers of the year before November 8 even happened. Even then, we looked at each other and said, “This one is on us.” Just the tenor of the election cycle was enough to solidify the feeling. Neither of us had experienced in our adult lives such a stunning abandonment of facts, baseless claims, deliberately biased coverage, and overall lack of scrutiny. It was absolutely mind blowing and a sad commentary on the state of education in our country.

We Are Custodians of Social Good

I recently gave a talk as part of TEDxCharlotte titled, Education Isn’t the Only thing, It’s Everything. I tried to make the case that what happens in the classroom has a ripple effect throughout every other aspect of society. Our inability to produce thoughtful, civic-minded, well-rounded, critical thinkers has a real human and societal cost. When we don’t push our students to develop well-informed opinions, to support claims with evidence or interrogate their sources we see what happens. This has always been true in theory, but the 2016 Presidential Election laid it bare for the world to see. Fully immersed in Internet meme culture and information echo chambers, we seem to have lost our grip on reality. A current Stanford study showed that 80 percent of students (middle school through college) can’t distinguish between real or “fake news” on social media. Additionally, they had trouble distinguishing whether or not the source was credible. This frightening revelation, coupled with the belief by one major fake news provider that he helped influence the outcome of the election, ought to give educators everywhere pause. How should we feel knowing that so many of the individuals who went to the polls and cast their ballots first sat in our classrooms? The truth is, we should be in our feelings. This is the part of being an educator that often goes overlooked. It serves a civil function. We are more than just deliverers of content; we are custodians of the social good. The skills and competencies developed in classes far outlive their term. This should be the philosophy that undergirds every teacher's pedagogy at all levels. If we can’t find a way through the lesson planning, activities, and assessments to embed these approaches then we are failing the public and endangering our future.

We’re Not Measuring Up

What is clear is that being educated is more than just matriculation, more than the accumulation of credit hours or a diploma. It speaks to the way we engage the world around us. It’s about whether or not we ask big questions or employ reason and logic. This is the greatest metric of education, and if the election is any indicator, we’re not measuring up. When people used to ask me why I teach, I would respond by asking them if they wanted to be tried by a jury of their peers where ordinary citizens didn’t have the literacies or critical-thinking skills to evaluate cases and render an accurate verdict. I’d follow by asking if they wanted to live in a nation so poorly educated and gullible that the electorate was unfit to self-govern. As educators, we need to ask ourselves the same question. If the answer is no, then we have some serious work to do.
James E. Ford
James E. Ford is the 2015 North Carolina State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. He currently is the Principal Consultant at Filling the Gap Educational Consultants and is a first year doctoral student at UNC-Charlotte. Ford earned a bachelor of science in mass communication from Illinois State University in 2003 and a master’s degree in ...

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