It’s been another tough week in Teacher Land. My music teacher buddies in Michigan are writing about coming inside from the cold, after a few weeks of humming softly in a circle on the grass, playing ukuleles or meeting under a canvas canopy with tubas and flutes.
How to make music safely, indoors: a challenge I never had to meet, but creative teachers are figuring out, on the fly, every day. Kudos, and more kudos, to every teacher struggling to make whatever form their instruction is taking effective. Y’all rock.
But imagine you are the 8th grade Social Studies teacher who assigned watching the Presidential debate, asking for a one-paragraph response or trying to discuss it via Zoom. You anticipated lots of fireworks, and actually hope that your students get hung up on the bad behavior. Because otherwise you’ll have to explain who the Proud Boys are–and the fact that a serving president has already falsely deemed the election a fraud, five weeks in advance. Try being ‘neutral’ and pro-civic engagement after that.
There have been lots of jokes today about needing a middle school teacher at the next debate. Ha ha and all that, but as a veteran, 30-year middle school teacher, let me lay down the law: No more debates.
Media outlets and sponsoring organizations don’t need mutable microphones or better rules. (Better rules and guidelines are a feeble solution to a much bigger problem—something every classroom teacher comes to understand, eventually.)
It’s not about Chris Wallace’s failure—and it was a botched job– to control Donald, either. It was clear to anyone who watched Wallace’s credible interview with him, a few weeks back, that the president was getting his revenge on Wallace and Fox, in a deliberately crafted (and rehearsed) strategy: Dominate. Flood the zone. Humiliate your opponent.
Trump openly abused everything: His opponent. Family loyalty. Voters’ intelligence. Norms of civility.
Turning off the president’s microphone is the political equivalent of making him write ‘I will not interrupt’ one hundred times on the chalkboard. It also opens up the possibility that he would walk offstage, as is his habit during ‘briefings’ at the White House. None of this is something children of any age should witness, if we want to preserve a democracy and civic dialogue.
What we need is a consequence with teeth that also protects the whole country from the harm: No. More. Debates.
There’s enough time for media outlets and sponsoring organizations to make other plans. Maybe they’re just done. Maybe they offer Town Halls around policies, with candidates appearing separately. Whatever. But what our children and our country saw last night on television should not happen again. It wasn’t rough-and-tumble, bare-knuckle politics. It was, instead, obscene.
Six in ten observers believed Biden ‘won’ the debate (a word that doesn’t really apply—we all lost, last night). Only 28% thought Trump prevailed. If the voting ends up roughly the same way—two to one—we have reason to hope that we will survive this horrible experience.
Biden, in what I thought was one of his best moments last night, turned to the camera and assured us that we could use the institution of free and fair elections to save the republic. Just vote, he said. Trump followed up by declaring the election a fraud and a joke. That’s another thing we don’t want our children to see or believe.
One more teacher story: An award-winning teacher I know in Mississippi started a post today by saying ‘I really need you to read this.’
She said that as a first grade teacher, she had a student whose mother had a blog. After ‘Meet the Teacher’ night, blogging mama wrote about my friend’s ‘weird’ (and ethnically Asian) last name and what she thought about her child having a teacher with that last name.
It was incredibly hurtful, my friend said. Mama ended up pushing to remove her kid from the class. When administration wouldn’t remove him, she withdrew him from school.
I think this is the first time I’ve talked about this, my friend said. It is hard to do. A lot of people never experience racism and xenophobia themselves, so they just aren’t aware of it. I get it. That was me when I was younger too.
She said: I unequivocally denounce white supremacy. I ask that my friends and family join me. I want to see all of my friends and family come out strongly against white supremacy to show love and support of me and my children, as well as love and support of our brothers and sisters who occupy this wonderful planet with us.
She posted two hours ago, and her post has dozens of ‘I denounce white supremacy’ comments, and commiserations from other teachers about dealing with racism in the classroom.
What if every public school teacher said to their class today, in developmentally appropriate language, I unequivocally denounce white supremacy. I denounce it in this classroom. I denounce it in this town. I denounce it in this great nation. White supremacy is—and always has been—wrong.
Parents, teachers and citizens of all stripes should not have to witness abusive, abhorrent behavior and listen to bald-faced lying. We wouldn’t allow our students to do this. We shouldn’t allow our elected leaders to do this, either. For many, many reasons, including that thing you study in school: the lessons of history.
No more debates. Let’s not let Trump destroy discourse, in favor of domination. We all lose.