Trump Changes What We Now Must Teach

In April 2015, I began writing about the sorry state of education in the United States if schools adopted the Common Core Standards because those standards would terribly debase how students learn to read and write. Once the standardized tests (SBAC, PARCC, and SAT) were linked to the standards, the fix was in even though it is well-documented that a school district’s scores on those tests depend on one thing only: the income of the parents of the test-takers. What has actually happened is that affluent school districts in which administrators are confident that the income levels of the parents will insure good test scores ignore the shoddy Common Core standards and give their students quality experiences as readers and writers. However, districts with parents of low income or living in poverty concentrate on those standards because administrators worry about low test scores and try to hedge their bets. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Now in November 2018, there is an added worry about what all students everywhere are learning about language because of Donald Trump. Max Boot explains that worry in the following piece he wrote for The Washington Post.

 

America will need years to clean up the toxins Trump has released


President Trump speaks at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Oct. 9. (Nati Harnik/AP)

 

Donald Trump won’t be president for life. In a little more than two or (heaven help us) six years, he will be gone. But his baleful legacy will live on. He is turning U.S. politics into a Superfund site and the Republican Party into the leading intellectual polluter in America. It could take a generation to clean up the toxins he has released. Trump is a racist, xenophobe and conspiracy-monger, and his party increasingly reflects all of those mental deformities.

Trump suggests that Florida’s efforts to count ballots after Election Day — a standard practice — are part of a Democratic plot to steal the election. “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected,” he tweeted. “Must go with Election Night!” There is no evidence — none — of any fraud. When asked for proof, Trump replied, “I don’t know. You tell me.”

But his conspiracy-mongering is echoed by governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott (R), who vows “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election,” and by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who claims, “Incompetent law breaking election officials lead to chance for lawyers to steal an election.” I worked on Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, so I am saddened to see “Little Marco” turning into his tormentor’s mini-me.

But that is the Trump effect: He is pushing otherwise sane Republicans down conspiratorial rabbit holes. It is big news when Republican Martha McSally in Arizona is willing to graciously concede her Senate race without claiming she was the victim of fraud. What used to be routine is now extraordinary.

McSally is, after all, a member of the same party as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). He tweeted a video of a man handing currency to women and girls under the caption: “BREAKING: Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time. Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!” Trump retweeted the video, writing: “Can you believe this, and what Democrats are allowing to be done to our Country?” It turned out the footage was from Guatemala, not Honduras, and it showed local merchants contributing money to the refugee caravan. There was no connection to George Soros, but that hasn’t stopped Trump, Gaetz & Co. from trafficking in this anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Trump also hasn’t been shy about insulting the intelligence of African Americans. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), one of the longest-serving members of the House, is an “extraordinarily low I.Q. person.” CNN anchor Don Lemon is “the dumbest man on television” and makes LeBron James “look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” CNN reporter Abby Phillip, a Harvard University graduate, asks“a lot of stupid questions.” Stacey Abrams, a Yale Law School graduate and former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, is “not qualified” to be governor of Georgia. Trump insults lots of people, including whites such as CNN’s Jim Acosta (“a rude, terrible person”), but his barbs about intelligence are primarily aimed at minorities.

Latin American immigrants are another favorite Trump target. In the midterm campaign, he released a commercial trying to make a cop-killer the symbol of a supposed invading army of illegal immigrants. The ad was so racist and dishonest that not even Fox News , his favorite network, would air it.

Such blatant bigotry from the president encourages blatant bigotry among his followers. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) refers to Mexican immigrants as “dirt,” Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis warns voters not to “monkey this up” by electing his African American opponent, and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who represents a state with a long history of lynching, jokes about being in the front row for a “public hanging.”

Trent Lott, a former senator from Mississippi, had to resign as Senate majority leader after “joking” that if only the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems.” But that was in 2002, when the GOP still had some standards. Today, Trump has given the haters permission to come into the open. Little wonder that the FBI reportsthat hate crimes were up 17 percent last year and anti-Semitic hate crimes up 37 percent. After Trump pronounced himself a “nationalist,” the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website gleefully exclaimed: “He is /ourguy/. He is pushing the edges of the limits.”

Trump is not just pushing the limits — he is erasing them. He is normalizing bigotry and conspiracy-mongering in ways that would have seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. After he is gone, and perhaps even before, it will be imperative to rebuild the guardrails of our culture. We cannot eliminate bigotry, but we can reduce its prevalence and make its public expression unacceptable. The anti-tobacco campaign publicizing the dangers of smoking offers a model of the kind of public-education effort that will be necessary to clean up Trump’s toxic residue. Because if history teaches anything, it is that hate-mongering kills just as surely as smoking does.

 

We educators now have an added responsibility. Not only must we, despite the Common Core, teach students to be readers and writers, we must, despite the language students hear from their President, teach students how important it is both for their personal integrity and for the survival of our democracy to use language accurately and respectfully.

 

Mr. President: Language Matters.

Of all the sadnesses I have about the current state of our great nation, a key one is that our incoming President uses language to destroy not build, to hurt not heal, to divide not unite. Tom Friedman gives examples of Donald Trump’s use of language and suggests alternatives. 

I once taught English to 7th grade boys. The most immature and insecure of those boys used language as Donald Trump does. They insulted others and insisted on their own greatness. I worked hard to help my students to be aware of their language and, more importantly, to think more broadly and deeply. My goal was to help them to be less self-absorbed and to be open to new ways of seeing the world as they gained confidence in themselves as part of that larger world. I have similar wishes for Donald Trump. I hope that he ceases to see himself as the center of his own world and, instead, sees himself as part of a larger world in which he has tremendous responsibilities.

Language matters. Language both expresses our existing thoughts and creates our new thoughts. We need a President who thinks more broadly and deeply and speaks and writes out of that deeper, broader thinking. We need a President who uses language to dialogue with others and explore diverse ideas in order to create new thinking for himself. Only by using language in both of those ways can he call us, the American people, to envision a country in which we can all take pride.

For Our Kids: Crucial Questions About Education Each Presidential Candidate Must Answer

Dear Dr. Carson, Secretary Clinton, Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich, Senator Rubio, Senator Sanders, and Mr. Trump:

An issue that you have barely touched on in the televised debates and town hall meetings is K-12 education. Yet the education policies of the next President will affect every child and adolescent in the United States and will determine the future of our nation. Therefore, I am writing to ask you some crucial questions about K-12 education. I will post your responses on my blog, which has more than a quarter of a million readers who are concerned about education in this country.

The questions for you are:

  1. More than 500 experts in early childhood education, including the most respected professionals in the country, issued a public statement opposing the Common Core Standards for Early Childhood Education because those standards are developmentally inappropriate and cause harm to young children. The National Council of Teachers of English, comprised of elementary, middle, and high school teachers as well as college professors, did not endorse the Common Core Standards. In their analysis of the Common Core Standards, they noted that they are not internationally benchmarked and are lacking vital elements of literacy education that countries with which we compete have. No experts in the field of teaching reading and writing and no early childhood professionals were asked to participate in the writing of the  Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards were not written by educators who know how to teach and how students learn best; they were written by people who produce standardized tests and analyze student data. What do you think the federal government or state governments should do about these standards, which are neither based on a reliable foundation nor have any evidence that they make students “college and career ready”?
  1.  Private foundations have funded and mandated what and how all students in the country will be taught and have been a strong force in determining how teachers and administrators will be trained. The leading funders are Bill and Melinda Gates who have spent billions to create and implement the Common Core. Bill and Melinda Gates also control the discussion of the Common Core in the media and promote the Common Core by giving grants to organizations, ranging from the national teachers unions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters. Do you think such control over public education by billionaires is true to the nature of a democracy? Or does it make the United States an oligarchy with major decisions made by the wealthy few?
  1. Rupert Murdoch has said that the public education sector in this country is a $500 billion market. We have seen the privatization of public education as charter schools proliferate. Charter schools use public money but are not publicly accountable and operate for the profit of their investors. What is your position on privatizing public education? Do you think it acceptable to provide taxpayer dollars to charter schools that are not accountable to the public for the use of that public money?
  1. States fund charter schools for a relatively small number of students and, thereby, deny those funds to traditional public schools, which have the responsibility to educate all of the students. What is your opinion of that use of public funds?
  1. Charter schools, on the whole, do not perform better than public schools, even though their students are more select due to their family background and come from less impoverished homes than students in traditional public schools. Charter schools also have students with fewer special needs and and fewer students who are English language learners, and charter schools control what students they keep and  what students they dismiss. What, then, is your justification for supporting charter schools if you do and your reasons for not supporting them if you don’t?
  1. According to Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card, only five states, Alabama, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Vermont, earn the mark of A for rejecting  high stakes tests as a way for determining if students are promoted to the next grade and graduate from high school and for evaluating teachers. What is your opinion about the test-and-punish practices of the other states?
  1. Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card also discusses and provides data about racial segregation in our schools. It states:  “To a large extent, residential segregation is responsible for school segregation. However, state policies that promote school choice typically exacerbate segregation and charters often isolate students by race and class. Therefore, even beyond housing policies, the education policies and incentives that states put in place influence the degree of segregation in their public schools. In some schools, segregation is so extreme that the UCLA Civil Rights Project describes them as apartheid schools.” What would you, as President, do to reduce or eliminate the segregation caused by school choice programs and publicly funded but privately managed charter schools?
  1. Affluent students in our country receive a far different education than less privileged students do. School officials in affluent school districts are confident that their students’ standardized test scores will be fine so do not limit education to the totally inadequate Common Core. They provide their students with an education rich in inquiry and independent thinking. However, in poorer school districts officials are concerned with their history of low test scores. Therefore, students in those lower income districts often have their school days filled with test prep instead of authentic learning experiences. How do we, as a nation, make sure that we do not have two separate and unequal educational systems determined by class, one for the haves and one for the have-nots?
  1. Perhaps it is not the curricula or the teachers but rather the poverty of a large portion of our population that creates problems in student achievement.  Depending on how poverty is defined, either  1 in 5 children  or 1 in 3 children are living below the poverty level in the United States. Either statistic is shameful. We, the richest nation in the world, have staggering amounts of child poverty compared with other industrialized nations. How will you address the issue of poverty? Do you have plans for making  resources and opportunities more equitable for students in affluent, middle class, and impoverished school districts?
  1.  It is abundantly clear that standardized tests cannot measure the quality of an educational system or the capabilities students will need for their future. They will need to know how to ask good questions, collaborate with diverse people, be innovative, have strategies for learning how to learn as they solve new problems and address issues that we can’t yet imagine. How will you, as President, ascertain if our educational system is working well so that students are learning what they need to learn in order to live satisfying lives, have productive careers, and be contributing citizens of a democracy? How will you measure the quality of American education?

Dr. Carson, Secretary Clinton, Senator Cruz, Governor Kasich, Senator Rubio, Senator Sanders, and Mr. Trump, thank you for your time. I will post your responses as soon as I receive them. Your answers will be of great interest to the many readers of this blog.

Sincerely,

Ann Policelli Cronin

Note to readers: While we wait for responses from the candidates, let’s start the conversation. I encourage you to write in support of a candidate for President of the United States, based on that candidate’s positions on education.  You may post your comments below, or if you wish to write a longer piece, send it to me at annpcronin@gmail.com. I will post as many statements as feasible. 

 

 

 

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