Teaching Trump

I’m struggling with how to approach my classes right now. I’m teaching introductory courses in international relations and American politics, and therefore the actions of the first couple of weeks of the Trump Presidency are highly relevant topics of conversation. Political Science professors often talk about what level of neutrality to maintain in their classroom—do you try to appear neutral, despite having clear political opinions? Or do you make your own perspective clear, and assure students of your fairness to their own beliefs?—but regardless of your politics, the hyper-polarizing nature of the new administration’s actions make the neutrality side harder and harder to justify, even as taking a partisan angle becomes more likely to shut down discussion.

When I struggle on these sorts of issues, I turn to fellow educators, who are producing excellent work struggling with this and other aspects of teaching about the exceptional nature of the 2016 election and the Trump Administration. This is particularly helpful while I’m still sorting through my own thoughts and considering the approaches I want to take. Under the cut are some thought pieces I’ve seen freely available around the web on these issues to give you a place to start in case you too are struggling with Teaching Trump. Few of them offer specific lesson plans, though, and so for those, I turn to the ALPS community, either as comments or in the form of guest posts, to start building specific lectures or lesson plans to engage students on this extraordinary time.

Teaching in the Time of Trump, by Benjamin Justice and Jason Stanley, in Social Education 80(1), p. 36-41, 2016. This piece explicitly discusses the issue of neutrality.

Teaching Donald Trump: What is a College Professor to Do? By Benjamin Knoll, June 8, 2016 on the Huffington Post. Another take on neutrality.

The Presidential Race Enters the Classroom, by S.M., The Economist, October 20, 2016. Another take on neutrality and prejudice in the classroom.

From Brexit to Trump: should teachers talk politics in the classroom, by Andrew Jones, the Guardian, January 11, 2017. Considers how to engage students in discussion on polarizing political issues.

Stop Teaching Anti-Trump Bias, by Frederick M Hess and Chester Finn, Jr, November 15, 2016, in US News and World Report, which discusses the counterfactual of the impact of a Clinton victory on Trump-supporting students. and warns against teachers taking sides.

Here’s how I’ll teach Trump to my college students this fall, by Zach Messitte, August 11, 2016 in the Washington Post. He argues that you cannot avoid discussing Trump, but it is important to both call out bigotry while respectfully listening to all viewpoints.

Three challenges for Teachers in the Era of Trump, by Mica Pollock, December 9, 2016 post on the Washington Posts’s Answer Sheet. Discusses methods for responding to the rise of incidents of hate and harassment in schools.

Teaching Trump to College Students, by Jason Blakely, August 31, 2016, blog post on the Atlantic. Discusses incorporating fascism in a course on American political thought. Blakey is also quoted in a USA Today article on the same subject.

Teaching in a Time of Trump, Mark Bauerlein, November 28, 2016 in Inside Higher Ed. Points out that one way to help students through their fears is to tell them the story of diversity.

Teaching across our differences in the time of Trump, by Jonathan Zimmerman, San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 2017. Argues for examining our political prejudices and the impact they have on our teaching about Trump.

Teaching Civics in the Time of Trump, by Panyin Conduah of Moyers and Company, December 20th, 2016 blog post. Argues that the lack of basic civics education is a concern, and looks to the popularity of the musical Hamilton to suggest a new version of Schoolhouse Rock and other popular media tools to educate kids.

Teaching After the Election of Trump, The Zinn Education Project, November 15, 2016. Offers a series of lessons meant for grade school history classes on issues ranging from organizing under repressive conditions, the progress and reversals of racial politics, civil liberties, immigration reform, climate change and the Keystone pipeline, and past US presidents.

Don’t Retreat. Teach Citizenship, by Michael B Smith, Rebecca S Nowacek, and Jeffrey L Bernstein, January 19, 2017 in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Commentary. Argues for taking this time to teach students about three values of citizenship: knowledge, empathy, and political participation.

Teaching Trump: Professors face yuge challenge in classroom, by Colin Diersing, May 10, 2016, USA Today College. Different professors discuss how the Trump phenomenon makes students question existing political science findings, and how Trump has motivated interest in politics.

What the lessons of the Roman Empire can teach us about Donald Trump, by Daisy Dunn, The NewStatesman, January 25, 2017 . Looks at lessons from the Roman Empire for the current administration

My own university is holding a weekly seminar called ‘The Trump Administration: Political and Historical Implications’.  Open to students, faculty, staff, and the wider community, and held over lunchtime, each week focuses on a different topic, ranging from populism, presidential power,  and fake news to environmental issues, Black Lives Matter, immigration, the economy, gender, and conspiracy theories.  Speakers assign short readings and give a brief talk, and then lead a discussion with participants.  Students can get 1 course credit if they participate in an online discussion, but this is not required. We set this up very quickly after the election, and participation has been quite robust.

ETA: Two colleagues have suggested some good overall approaches to Teaching Trump that I want to add. For both of them, their goal is to allow for critical analysis of the Trump Presidency without taking a partisan angle.  One approach is to focus on historical parallels.  Put Trump’s candidacy and presidency in historical context, so students can explore the ways in which he is following earlier precedents and how he is breaking them.  The second is to differentiate between substantive policy critique and procedural actions.  Let students debate the former, while you point out the latter.  For example, you can discuss the constitutionality of the executive order temporarily banning immigrants from certain countries without commenting yourself on whether you agree with it or not.  And of course, both approaches can be combined, where you put these procedural actions in historical context.

As one lesson plan idea:  Ask your students about the immigration ban and what it called for.  You’ll probably hear answers that are incorrect, as there is a lot of misinformation and false narratives about it.  Pass out the language of the recent executive order, or excerpts with the relevant parts. Have them search for the relevant parts about who is affected, how long it will last, exceptions, etc. Then do a brief lecture on the historical role and use of executive orders, what Trump said about a ban like this during the election, and the basic arguments about the legality and constitutionality of the executive order.  Then let them discuss their perspective on it from a substantive point of view.  You can do something like this with almost any new policy or action by Trump, so it is a versatile approach that can be adapted for future weeks and semesters.

Links to the full Teaching Trump series:

Leave a Reply