This week I’m reflecting on two articles. The first was a blogpost on the IoE website, by Jessica Ringrose and Victoria Showunmi entitled ‘Tackling teaching about Trump: lessons from Black feminism’. The second was a list of charities, written by Anu Jindal, published on Eclectic Literature, entitled ‘Let’s Get to Work: Practical Ways for Writers and Teachers to Get Involved Right Now’.
My thinking about teaching and learning is necessarily impacted by the elections in the US and the majority vote for a president who seethes with hatred for society’s most vulnerable communities. As Anu Jindal notes, disenfranchised or already vulnerable people who live in fear, such as women, POC, LGBTQ+, immigrants, and the undocumented, are facing increased risks, with a US president who cannot in faith be said to vouch for equality, freedom or even common, human decency and respect. What does this mean for the future of education? It is this question that has brought me to thoroughly review my teaching philosophy on this blog.
Reading Ringrose and Showunmi, I was really interested in the idea of a ‘Trump pedagogy’, as I think this begins to tease open the question of why education matters so much at this time. Trump is smart, and his rhetoric of policy avoidance (the clearly principled thinking that hides behind his evasive responses to questioning) is as much a didactic tactic as it is the first signs of authoritarian rule. Or rather, it is authoritarian because it is didactic. I think here of Eleanor Hargreaves, who suggests that the ‘western’ tradition of education threatens to take the form of authoritarian rule, with attentive minds absorbing information from a trusted teacher.
The trust in Trump is much like this trust placed by students in their teacher. A teacher is a projected form of socially objective thought. A teacher brings objectivity into contact, into tangibility – makes it seem very, very real. ‘Trump pedagogy’, as Ringrose and Showunmi write, is ‘a form of seemingly educative speech that is supposed to be hard hitting, honest and reflective of the ‘common interest’, but which [Ringrose and Showunmi] interpret as hate-speech that rejects global equality initatives and human rights.’ For Ringrose and Showunmi, Trump is an educator because of this ability to vocalise hatred as learning.
It takes a bold student to step up and call out a teacher, even if they think they are wrong in what they are saying–students in traditional educational settings will listen and assume a silent consenting voice, collectively constituting the assumed objectivity of the teacher and their lesson.
Of course, what Ringrose and Showunmi are really describing is the process whereby ideas become ideology. From here we can start to see how central pedagogic practice truly is to this process. The right kind of pedagogical practice can pass hatred as a common interest. The right kind of pedagogical practice can command humans to incite fear in one another. The right kind of pedagogical practice can make interpretation irrelevant, because the content of the lessons vocalises deeply instilled structures of thought in our world, in a manner that makes that content seem ‘farcical’, comical, ridiculous, a satire, a joke, mere buffoonery.
In the article ‘Let’s Get to Work’, Anu Jindal lists charities (many of them doing humanitarian aid work) where writers and teachers can contribute their help. Humanitarian charities are coming together with the humanities as part of an anti-Trump pedagogical movement. Education is an engine for social justice, this much has been recognised. But perhaps we also need to be re-thinking what we do in the classroom. Perhaps we need to start letting our students know that they do not need to absorb information, that rote learning no longer has a place in a classroom where were are thinking about what it means to be human, or reading authors who are reflecting on what it means to be human, or simply thinking about our human experiences, or maybe simply smiling at each other and learning to be. We need to give the authority to our students to challenge our authority as teachers, so that when they need to, they can call out educators posing as politicians (or vice versa) attempting to teach hatred as common sense.