The Trump presidency presents a challenge to most educators since he represents values that are antithetical to what most of us in the humanities care about passing onto our students.
Since he is no normal politician but president of the United States and the ostensible leader of the free world, his constant lies, factual distortions, lack of respect for the rule of law, for civilized norms of discourse and conduct should give us to put it mildly a degree of intellectual and emotional heartburn that might drive us out of the profession if not out of the country. Can we continue teaching the same way as a result of this individual who has been catapulted to the highest office in the land? Do we ignore the flagrant way he misrepresents history –showing no understanding for example for the causes of the Civil War or who Frederick Douglass was. Do we ignore the fact that he brags about not reading books while boasting that he is a “really smart guy” who talks and tweets using a 4th or 5th grade vocabulary?
Rather than tear our hair out, or take more desperate measures, we two former English Language Arts teachers with 60 years of classroom experience between us, recommend you join not just the political resistance to legally remove him from office but also help to transform this awful moment in our history into a teachable one. Teaching The Humanities in the Age of Trump understands that the people who voted for him may have
high IQs and be otherwise decent people but might have avoided making this catastrophic choice if they had exercised more critical and moral intelligence. We believe that the relentless focus on testing and the subsequent devaluation of reading for its own sake, especially literary fiction may have tended to stifle their capacity for clear thinking and that their children may fall for other con men and women with authoritarian tendencies. We also understand that there is a line that teachers must not cross. The line that insulates the classroom from the pressures of partisan politics and teachers who would attempt to indoctrinate rather than develop their students’s critical faculties. We further understand that we cannot change the ossified high school curriculum overnight. However, all that said, we can each as Humanities teachers in our own way do our bit to help those who might be inclined to fall for the kinds of arguments that helped Trump and leaders like him win power think twice without referencing political parties or even referencing Trump’s name. So what you maybe asking should be the teacher’s current focus? In one word it is to better “connect” our teaching related to common texts and topics in the Humanities such as 1984, Animal Farm, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird,the Boston Tea Party, the resistance to fascism etc with the theme of how political power works. Our chapters focus on how leaders use arguments to gain power and how students can and should use their critical intelligence to spot false arguments, red herrings and plain bullshit.
The authors insist that we all as teachers must try harder to connect the words on the pages of literary and historical texts which are too often seen as remote from the reader’s experience to the students’ own worlds. We must redouble our efforts to seek relevance for what we teach and insist that texts and events that occurred hundreds of years ago still have meaning today. We cannot simply insist that they are there on the syllabus for a reason or that you should read about them for the sake of a test. We must not allow either ourselves or more importantly our students to sleepwalk through their classes. Instead of lecturing at them, we favor short role assignments where they are forced to discuss the critical and moral issues that are raised with respect to the use and exercise of power. We provide short discussion guides for each of the subject areas of High school literature, History, Social Studies and Civics as well as relevant lesson plans that take full advantage of the multi media universe that today’s students are fortunate enough to inhabit. Relevant clips include Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, Nixon’s Checkers’ Speech, All the President’s Men. The book takes a sequential look at power, how it is acquired, how it is abused and how it is sustained and the ways it has historically been resisted.
The book due out in December 2017 and available in paperback for $5.99 and ebook for $4.99 can be pre-ordered by emailing Laurence Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org before September 1st. 2017