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Vol. 31, No.3
Spring 2017
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Education Alert

Teachers Take on Trump Era

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Brooke Anderson

Pilar Mejía and Jeremiah Jeffries lead a workshop for elementary school educators at Sanctuary Education, Oakland, California, Feb. 18, 2017.

Teachers throughout the United States are struggling to recover from the shock of the election and beginning to organize to protect their students and their schools. In New York City, for example, protests have been taking place on a near daily basis since the inauguration.

According to Rethinking Schools editor Adam Sanchez: “Trump’s election has politicized our school. Harvest Collegiate was always a progressive high school, but now there are daily conversations about Trump’s attacks and what we can do to organize against them. These conversations are happening not just in the classroom, but in after-school clubs, in
 the hallways, in the breakroom. The student walkouts—after the inauguration, when Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education, in protest of the Muslim travel ban—led to special teacher meetings because we felt we weren’t doing enough for the movement. Our students were challenging us to do more.”

National and local teacher unions, progressive caucuses, and grassroots education organizations mobilized in opposition to DeVos’ confirmation hearings. Badass Teachers Association’s call for teachers to wear black the week leading up to the vote went viral. Teachers, students, and parents called, faxed, and emailed their congresspeople, forcing Vice President Pence to break the tie over her confirmation.

Teachers are working to protect their most vulnerable students, promote critical conversations, develop relevant curriculum, and support student activism. And they’re joining together to figure out how to do that. The Critical Educators Collective in Portland, Oregon, held a “Teaching in a Time of Trump” gathering Feb. 11. More than 400 educators from the Northwest responded to the organizers’ call: “Do you teach for social justice? Worried about the harm and threat the Trump administration poses to our students and their families? Scared that our own ability to teach for social justice is under attack? We’re stronger together. Join us for strength, community, and resources.”

Llondyn Elliott, a 2015 Grant High School graduate, a transgender Black man, was one of the panelists. He told educators, “The most powerful thing that you can give me . . . is critical thinking.” Panelists also included RS editor and Roosevelt High School teacher Moé Yonamine, who told participants: “This is not a time to be neutral.”

Rethinking Schools cosponsored “Sanctuary Education: A Conference for K–12 Teachers, Staff, and Youth Workers on Meeting the Needs of Arab and Muslim Youth in the Trump Era” on Feb. 18 in Oakland, California. RS joined forces with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Teachers 4 Social Justice, and the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action.

The conference started with a panel of Arab and Muslim youth who talked about their experiences in school, the impact of feeling isolated and under attack, and what they need from teachers and schools:

“We need teachers, counselors, and administrators who look like us, who speak our languages and know our cultures.”

“We need to see our history and our reality in the curriculum.”

“We need you to put your bodies on the line.”

Then participants attended workshops: “Know Your Rights”; “Talking with Students About Racism, Sexism, Islamophobia, and Xenophobia” at different grade levels; and age-appropriate curriculum from K–12. The conference ended with a conversation on “Making Sanctuary Real in Schools and Communities” and a promise of more events soon. ◼