Educating Trump’s “Deplorables”

Usually, after a few weeks off in the middle of August each summer, I find myself chomping at the bit to get back into the classroom. Sure, I complete the requisite (and highly conspicuous) humble brags on Facebook, “complaining” about having to update my syllabi when I could be spending the day at the beach, but like most of my colleagues, I love to teach and I can’t wait to meet my newest crop of cultural anthropology students.

This year, though, despite having taken off longer than usual (due to back surgery, a wedding and- oh yeah- our honeymoon) I’m wasn’t so excited. This year I was actually a bit terrified. Why? Well, because Donald Trump happened while I was away over the summer- and in becoming the Republican presidential nominee has not only unleashed but also legitimized an onslaught of racism, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia and anti-intellectual zeal- and I didn’t know how I was going to deal with that.

trump-racism-1

You’ve gotta hope this a joke… like they’re being ironic to make a point?

I usually do a pretty good job of keeping politics outside of the classroom. By which I mean my personal political views; politics in general are, of course, fair game, and comprise the majority of our in class discussions because let’s face it: just about ever facet of 21st-century life has become politicized.

We talk about every topic under the sun. Last year I even added Ta’Nehisi Coates “The Case for Slave Reparations” to the syllabus. I nearly had a revolt on my hands, not just on account of the seemingly incomprehensible subject matter but the length of the article (“Seriously professor? It’s like 40 pages… And I never had any slaves. I didn’t even live back then. So why should I have to pay?”)

But I still manage, for the most part, to keep my personal political views out of the classroom. The smart ones eventually guess, or I’ll accidentally out myself by using my heavily-stickered iPad mini to log attendance while they’re watching a film, but I’ll still have one student at the end of each semester who comes up to me and says, “You’re so infuriating, you’re always playing devils advocate and I can never figure you out!”

(This, of course, is one of the many occupational hazards that come along with being an ethnically ambiguous, female, relatively young, and if my end-of-the-semester evaluations are to be believed, marginally attractive adjunct professor with- and I quote here- “pretty hair.” My students are forever trying to “figure me out.” I took to wearing a fake engagement ring long before I’d met my husband just to avoid the potential horror stories I’d heard from more experienced colleagues.)

I met a group of college students while canvassing in New Hampshire for the Sanders campaign earlier this year. They’d made the 8-hour bus ride from their plush NJ campus to frozen New England at the advice of one of their professors, a longtime activist I’d met while still in high school.

I envied her ability to send half a dozen of her students north, knowing that as an adjunct, I didn’t have that liberty: my personal political views have to stay out of the classroom because my job depends, in no small part, upon my student evaluations and a good 30% of them lose their minds and accuse me of being an atheist each semester when I mention that we are going to discuss the theory (emphasis mine, to keep the fundamentalist Christians among them from fleeing the scene before the conversation has even begun…) of human evolution.

So I hide my personal political views to keep my job. And while this is certainly not the most courageous path, I have made peace with this (at least for the time being) because if I lose my job, that’s approximately 75 students each semester (or 150 each year) who won’t be plunked back out into the world at the end of each final exam knowing, at the very least, who Ta’Nahesi Coates is.

But I’m not sure how much longer I can keep my shut, especially in a world where this has become normal:

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8 Responses to “Educating Trump’s “Deplorables””

  1. Katie

    I had a really great conversation at Justin’s work function this weekend. Picture me, one high-ranking military NCO in his 40’s with a thick Irish accent, and another retired military NCO who kept uttering insulting asides about President Obama. I listened to them both go on for awhile about the current state of politics, how careful (read “timid”) the military has to be these days, and how things used to be. It was about the time they were quoting Roosevelt (big stick and all of that), when I finally chimed in.

    I kept my composure, stating first that while I’m obviously glad WWII ended in favor of the Allies, I didn’t think that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were particularly proud moments in American history, considering the thousands of civilians we killed. Of course they nodded in agreement, stating that we have much more efficient technology these days to “get it done,” if only they were allowed. Since military tactics are outside my wheelhouse, I switched, stating the following: Speaking of what America stands for and how things used to be, what happened to “bring us your tired, your hungry, your poor?” I learned in elementary school that our patriotism rested comfortably in the arms of the melting pot of the American Dream — that we were a place where the politically or religiously oppressed could come and build a life for themselves if they worked hard enough. What happened to *that* America? You cannot believe the slogan “Make America great again” without acknowledging the probably only good thing about the “good ol’ days,” which was the idea that we’re all in this together. That none of us is that far removed from immigration. I reminded them that unless you’re Native American, you really have no righteous claim here.

    I said this all very calmly, but with confident conviction. The very obvious conservative really had nothing to say, though he did nod in quiet agreement. That was HUGE. The man with the Irish accent wholeheartedly agreed, considering he’s an immigrant who’s served our country for 22 years. Maybe I’m romanticizing, but I think in the end I showed them that the big stick isn’t always necessary — sometimes you only need to speak softly.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Hah! Good for you! I don’t think I would have even been able to do that without majorly losing it. Kudos to you for keeping your composure 🙂

      Reply
  2. Laurie Spigel

    I am fortunate to have traveled extensively in the US, where I met people very different from myself. Some, with opposite social and political views from mine, were the nicest folks you could ever meet, willing to stop for a stranded motorist, watch a stranger’s child, and share their homemade food freely. Alternately, I have known people who share my political and social views, but who are insulting, selfish types I wouldn’t want to share a meal with. It is important for me to remember our common humanity especially when politics is so divisive.
    This article may have a few insights into the “other half”: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/.

    Reply
  3. The Prof

    Good post Kat, and we have to believe that we can make a difference by our actions and that we are planting seeds of thoughts and reflection into our students!

    Reply
  4. Kate Hill

    I, too, share the pain of self-censorship. I believe blogging happens to help with it though. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Absolutely. Although there are times I wish that I blogged anonymously; then I could really let ‘er rip! Do you teach as well?

      Reply
      • Kate Hill

        Teach? Yes. Technical Writing and Workplace Communications. I stay anonymous myself. Maybe it’s time you create a side blog? Ha!

        Reply

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