I’m an Educator and I’m Responsible for the Election of Donald Trump

This morning I woke up in despair.  I hoped it was a terrible dream. I considered calling in to work. But then I realized that what I was doing was compromising myself, and in this time when it feels like I’ve had power revoked from me, I can do little worse than wallow in despair and revoke power from myself.  So I looked inwards to all the values I hold as an educator and I had a new feeling: urgency.
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I won’t blame others. I blame myself.

Here’s the thing.  It’s not productive to blame people. The outcomes of blame tend to exacerbate problems more than it helps them.  From blame emerges the desire to punish, hurt, fight, assert dominance, or impose our will.  We will find ourselves in this place again.  No, I will not blame people.  It won’t help us.

We will have the anger-fueled impulse to blame the third-party voters, or the white uneducated, or the people who didn’t vote at all.  And those groups who will be blamed will harden their stance in the face of our appalled and disappointed glares.  We will listen less. We will hold hate.  We will be less civil.

The opposite of blaming others, to me, is to take responsibility.  I take responsibility for the election of Donald Trump.  I didn’t canvas for him, vote for him, or advocate for anything he believes.  I still take responsibility, however, because that is the pathway to something my heart and soul desperately desires: progress.  By assuming responsibility, I find that urgency. I am emboldened to take action.  I find myself an agent even in the face of a tide taller and bigger than me.

In what ways was I responsible?  I denounced what he said without listening to why people connected with his message.  Underneath that connection was a deeper need from another human being who has their own heart and soul.  From that need I know that I could have found a better way to listen and to offer compassion instead of vitriol.  Instead of empathy, I responded with my own position.  We didn’t listen to each other.  We didn’t show each other compassion when we both deserved compassion.  I take responsibility for that.

I also take responsibility for not being crystal clear about my message as an educator. Working with early childhood schools, I promote critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration for the reasons that they are valuable skills in the 21st century.  I still maintain that, but where I missed clarity was in saying this: critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration are essential to a more just, equitable, and tolerant society.

Taking Responsibility Allows Me to be an Agent for Change

When I take responsibility, I don’t excuse crime, prejudice, and oppression born out of hate. I just don’t respond with blame that gets us nowhere.  We simply start shouting, defending, and digging our heels in.

If we all take responsibility and stop blaming each other, we find ways to enact and enable our selves.  The lashing out of violence and hatred is the symptom of disenfranchisement, desperation, and hurt.  Assuming responsibility, however, is a position of power.  You give yourself power when you take responsibility.

As a responsible person, I am an agent within the field of education. This is an incredible power to wield, and I’ve never found more urgency and affirmation than ever before in my professional life.

I find great inspiration in the work of Paulo Freire.  Something he’s offered is this idea: I am either complicit in the oppression, or I am transforming the system and healing the wounds of oppression. By ignoring the fact that education is a political act, I am complicit.  By buying into the idea that there is some conformist body of knowledge we all need to have, I am complicit.  By suppressing the characteristics that turn us into powerful agents for change, I am complicit.  By avoiding difficult conversations, I am complicit.

I will not be complicit, because I am responsible.  I will move towards what Freire calls a “critical consciousness.”  As an educator, the technical aspects of reading and math are only tools that allow access to something far more important: agency and self-determination.  This consciousness is lost to us.  The invisible hand of oppression is veiled, powerful, and present.  The denial of it is being complicit to its power.

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I fear the anti-intellectual movement that has never been better illustrated than the election of Donald Trump.  In the face of a plethora of information that infers President-Elect Trump’s potential harm, we have been responsible for electing him.  The anti-intellectual movement is powerful.  Tens of millions of people are willing to forgo that information.  Celebrities, athletes, and even YouTube stars hold more influence and power than theorists, academics, and scientists.  Our consumer-driven and myopic focus on elevating social status through purchasing power can be blamed, but again, I’m not trying to blame.  I’m responsible for that, too.  Not because I created it, but I’m responsible because I’m going to fight like hell against it.

 

In the face of anti-intellectualism, education will continue to oppress unless we are agents against it.  Fight for the critical consciousness.  Demand it from the system.  Work in partnership with teachers, don’t blame them.  Work in partnership with administrators, don’t blame them.  Demand something new.  Demand a new education.  Be responsible.  Take action.

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