Millions of children in America spend more time with their teachers than with their parents, on any given weekday. From the smallest to the one preparing to don her cap and gown, every child is shaped by her interactions, experiences, and discoveries with her teachers.
You can’t be a teacher, if you support Donald Trump.
Teachers do far more than deliver lessons on academic skills and content. We provide the context within which events in our local communities and the world at large are understood and processed. We carefully construct spaces where children can explore and shape their relationships with the world. When there is a shooting at an elementary school, when another case of police brutality shakes the country, when refugee children drown in the seas, and cities are destroyed by raining bombs, we sit with the children. We listen to their fears and ideas. We help them make sense of people and events. We think of ways we can help make life better for all by learning from history and our own experiences. We tell children a better world is possible, despite corruption, tragedies, and the insatiable human thirst for power.
Casting a ballot for Donald Trump is the equivalent of quilting a flag for the empire this troubled man seeks to build in the image of his horrendously gaudy, imposing buildings, which descend upon the history of New York City like gargantuan other world creatures seeking the destruction of all that was built by humble hands. Casting a ballot for Donald Trump, in fact, so much as considering doing so, is a proclamation of agreement with his rhetoric, unfailingly rooted in fear, mistrust, and bigotry. A Persian proverb says that “if the teacher is corrupt, the world will be corrupt.”
If you support Trump, you lack the most defining feature of a teacher–the desire and ability to instill in children an understanding of their agency and importance in healing the ills of the world. If our students aren’t leaving our classrooms believing that the world must be more just, and that they are integral to its betterment, then we aren’t teachers. And the definition of a better world is necessarily one in which human dignity is the basis for all actions and interactions. Donald Trump does not want such a world. Nor do his supporters. If you are one of them, you can’t be a teacher.
You will have a Muslim student. Whether he ever learns this or not, the fact will be that you support the idea that this student, along with his family and all members of his entire faith should be banned from America because this would make our country safe. Someone with such a belief cannot be entrusted with the well-being and education of any child, let alone a Muslim one. Whether you like it or not, there are millions of Muslim families in this country, and their children need teachers who show them that America is beautiful because they are here. You can’t do this because you don’t believe it to be true.
You will have students with mental, cognitive, and physical challenges. These students require more attention, acceptance, and affection than all others. They are ever more reliant on the compassion and support of their teachers in a world in which they are often marginalized and shunned. Their teachers’ job is to discover and enhance their abilities, which can happen only with tremendous faith in their importance and potential. Our job is to advocate for these children so fiercely that they will know no other way to be treated but with dignity and grace. You can’t give them this because you wish for a leader who openly mocks the disabled citizens of our country. If you don’t respect disabled people enough to denounce anyone who poses a threat to the dignity of their bodies and selves, you do not deserve to be present in the classrooms where they are being shaped.
You will have a student who was born in this country to undocumented parents. They will have worked for decades doing the small things on which all things depend, tending to the earth, building the homes in which we live, caring for our children, beautifully raising their own. He will be soft spoken, kind, walking into your classroom with the respect learned at home, sometimes with hot tamales wrapped in foil that his mother has sent for you. Perhaps he will never learn that you wish for a wall to keep away the likes of his parents, whom he knows to have hands and hearts of gold. Perhaps he’ll never know that you stand behind a presidential hopeful who calls men like his father rapists and bad hombres who steal jobs from the real Americans. You mistrust, fear and vilify the man this child adores, and the man he will become. You denied his worth the first time you considered casting a ballot for Trump. You cannot be trusted to teach this child with the devotion it takes to empower him. And you shouldn’t be a teacher if you don’t seek to empower your students. After all, it’s why they come to school.
You will have a student who is bright and diligent, who writes fiercely, and experiences everything she learns so viscerally that you will find purpose in her presence. But her silences will trouble you. You will notice that she recoils when someone walks by too closely, and when you lightly touch her shoulder to point out a paragraph you especially like. She will tell you one day over lunch that she was taken by someone whom she didn’t desire, many times, in ways that have made it impossible for her to see herself ever being whole again. You will need to show her that she is here. You will have to watch her learn to grieve. You will need to convince her that it is not her fault, and teach her to advocate for her dignity. You will have to help her find the voice to fight back, stand her ground, and demand justice. You cannot be the adult in this child’s classroom when she decides to seek help to survive sexual assault. You support a man who gropes the vaginas of unsuspecting women, ranks them, mocks their bodies, and calls them nasty for being intelligent and strong.
There are many more reasons why teachers who support Donald Trump are unfit to lead the charge for ushering children and young adults into the world. Karl Menninger believed that “what the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.” This has always been true. The importance of this statement regains its urgency at times in history when civility, peace, and justice are threatened, and when the moral fabric of a people becomes too flawed and brittle to hold our promises and dreams. This is such a time in history.