Teaching in the Time of Trump

By Marlise Ajanae Edwards, SJCC English Faculty

Last semester was rough. In my classes students ranged from disinterested and distracted, to passionate, to afraid. We would go on with lessons and essays and plans, and snap back to discussion and lamentation. No one expressed support of Trump, and the vocalness of many students against the Trump agenda was clear and consistent.

I didnít bother with neutrality myself. I expressed that Trumpís words and actions and revelations were disturbing, disgusting, that this election wasnít about politics but decency, and that the character of our society was in the process of being defined, again.But I wasnít nervous. Like so many people, I just thought that Trump had made himself unforgivable. On election night I stayed up late enough to finally become concerned, but I didnít stay up so late that I had confirmation that the unbelievable had occurred.

I taught the next day. I didnít call in sick even though I was; I was sick, and I saw it in some of my students; we were sick with disappointment, stunned and grieving. Some students, those who didnít connect to a sense of imperiled existence, were seemingly fine.But others were asking questions I couldnít answer about their personal immigration status, pondering possibilities which I quickly condemned that made me wonder about the limits of free speech; they vocalized their disappointment and anger at a nation that would reject them personally.

I felt quiet, I tend to grieve silently, and tried to steer them toward a semblance of the student affect, but it wasnít really a day for learning. And I felt rejected too, again.Trump made himself an enemy to my existence when he attacked all of those he attacked Ė and not surprisingly, even though Trump never explicitly attacked Blacks in his rhetoric or intolerance, hate crimes rose against Black people the most in the days following the election. These were days that I felt my skin. When I took my regular walk in my regular neighborhood, I felt my skin. When I walked down Campbell Avenue and a monster truck flying not one, but two, obnoxiously large American flags bullied its way down the center of the road, I felt my skin.

I wondered if I would have hurtful words hurled at me for no other reason than my skin.It wouldnít be the first time, but it has been a long time, and I braced myself. I could imagine my students and every other imperiled citizen of the world feeling in some way like I felt, hurt, sad, defiant, not ready for this.

A new semester is about to begin. The Electoral College dashed my last innocent hope for justice. The inauguration has now passed. By the time I re-enter a classroom, it will unequivocally be the time of Trump, and Iím not sure what that will mean to me, to how my classroom establishes space for honest discourse, for what my students are equipped to hold in their everyday practice of growing into engaged citizens.

First Amendment Rights Threatened?

At one point I said to a friend that Iím either going to become a rabid activist or go about head half buried in the sand, as usual. Iíve made my classes insular spaces for years now because I felt that students needed space apart ó like I need space apart ó from everyday crazy, and since developing writing skills can happen in many ways, I wouldnít always tackle the hardest issues; the terror of the world out there could wait for two hours. But now Iím almost certain that hard issues will be too hard to insulate from, and students may need more than a space away from it ó they may need a space to process it and develop a lexicon for speaking from their experiences, fears and frustrations.

In the fall, a high school teacher in Mountain View was suspended from work for a history lesson, linking Trump to Hitler. I wonder what my future students will be capable of bringing to their work if their teachers have been removed from the classroom for their lessons. I wonder what the teachers who watched Hitler unfold his agenda did in the days that slowly dripped into each other as unspeakable changes shaped daily life around them; maybe the horror wasnít noticeable until it became reality. I donít know whether itís fair to make Trump analogous to Hitler, but the time of Trump is certainly a synecdoche for the deeply rooted vile intolerance that also defines America.

I am not sure what my students will need in the coming months and years, Iím not sure what I will need either, but I am very sure that my classroom will remain a welcoming space to all, and that will certainly mean speaking, and writing and teaching against what may become the new normal in some spaces of concession and compromise to an agenda of hate.