Tuesday, 11 October 2016

What Donald Trump Means For Our Teaching

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Photo: politico.com
Oh, what a time we live in. Reeling in the Years is going to have to do an hour long special when they reach 2016, such is the speed at which our world seems to be changing these days. Brexit led to a circus of absolute confusion and uncertainty, the Olympics took place under an ever-darkening cloud of controversy, we've commemorated a century of the republic with a political deadlock, technology is marching on at a pace faster than you're reading this sentence, and over in America a man who has demonised entire groups of people and made abhorrent comments about women is running for President. Is it any wonder that so many people have sought escape as virtual Pokemon trainers?

For teachers, the state of things presents a challenge - how do we keep our subjects and our methods relevant in a world that changes constantly? I think about this challenge a lot, but recent events have had me really set to work on it. For CSPE teachers this challenge is one that has always existed anyway - our once-a-week, vaguely defined subject tends to get a bit of a poor reputation, and it can be hard to make it seem engaging and relevant to the students we teach. There have been times when I cursed the fact that it's my second subject. However, it really is hugely important, and the man I mentioned above has reminded me why.

Donald J. Trump has inspired me as a teacher. No one has done more than he has to spark people's interests in current events. He's been utterly brilliant at making people realise how important it is to know about the world we live in. You don't see an inflammatory, aggressive, wildly misogynistic and so-very-unsuitable man get so close to becoming US President and not want to know the answers to questions like "What would it mean if he was elected?", "How does he get away with saying these things?" and "How did he manage to become the candidate in the first place?"

Now, there are actually very serious answers to those questions. The rise of Trump, like the surprise Brexit result in June or the surge in support for people on the other side of the spectrum such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, is largely down to people's massive disillusionment with politics and politicians. The failure of leaders, governments and parliaments around the world to listen to and address the uncertainty people have felt since the recession - and there has been so, so much of it - has created a vacuum. On the one hand, that vacuum can be filled by communities organising, working together and campaigning for the issues that matter to people. On the other hand, it can be filled by a loud, self-confident "strong" leader who claims to have all the answers, and history is full of examples of what happens when people like that get the power and influence they crave.

Donald Trump inspires me because he makes people ask questions and think about things. He inspires me because he's a reminder of what can happen when we have blind faith in what prominent people tell us. He inspires me because he inadvertently makes it very clear that only a decent civic and political education can help us to avoid letting our young people fall - whether as victims or perpetrators - into the mire of discrimination, vilification and dehumanisation that's unfortunately increasingly present in western society. So, thank you Donald, you’ve given us a lot of a work to do.