Maybe “School Yard Bully” Trump Can Engage Students in Politics!!

How to explain the damaging, angry, racist, tone of Republican primary candidates?  It’s Trump dominating the news cycles.  It’s Trump praising Putin (who kills journalists), it’s Trump calling people dumb, stupid, liars.  It’s Trump calling for a ban on the travel of Muslims to the United States. It’s Trump calling for a registry of Muslims in America. It’s Trump insulting women, immigrants, Hispanics, reporters, etc.   It’s Trump spreading lies, exploiting fears, and making one outrageous statement after another.  And yet, his outrageous and fact free comments do not dent his standing in the polls amongst his fellow Republicans.

How do I possibly help explain to internationally minded students that the person leading the “opposition party” in the race for leadership of the leading democracy in the world is doing nothing but stoking anger and pedalling fear.  How do I explain that a “Sieg Heil” salute was on display by a Trump supporter in a recent Trump rally or that Trump says a protester deserved to be “roughed up” or that rally participants tell Hispanic Americans to “go back to their own country” or that Trump muses in a speech about the killing of journalists?

Trump portrays strength, and his proclamations that he’ll “be great” for the country, for women, for minorities, etc have resonated for so many people who are simply angry with the status quo in American politics.  But he is a bully, a schoolyard bully, plain and simple.  As educators we fight the battle of bullying regularly.  Schools have anti-bullying programs as part of their curriculum.  Some states have mandated such programs in schools.  Now we have the leader of the Republican party and potential presidential candidate who models bullying.  Insulting rivals, talking trash towards anyone who speaks against him, dominating conversations and interviews with an ego the size of his real estate empire.  He is simply an out of control ego maniac – and a bully.   Bullying starts with name calling and insults, often through social media.  His version of campaigning is simply insulting opponents, often using Twitter!  He’s crass and vulgar.  He’s a bully.  Given our ongoing challenges in schools around bullying behaviour, it’s distressing to watch the leading Republican candidate legitimizing the behaviour of a school yard bully while portraying it as strength.  School yard bullies are ALWAYS exposed, and never win in the end!  He won’t win and he’ll be exposed for the shallow, unfit, school yard bully that he is.

More importantly, I wonder what our students think of Donald Trump and his outrageous behaviour?  Part of me hopes that they are disgusted by the noise. Part of me hopes that they aren’t listening or paying any attention because if they are it would be incredibly confusing to see this as your initiation into the world of politics. But, if that is the case, then their indifference saddens me even more. To be disengaged by the disappointing and harmful rhetoric is one thing but to be disengaged because of apathy, or believing that the issues facing our complicated and challenging world are overwhelming and unsolvable (climate change, poverty, the middle east, one humanitarian crisis after another, etc), is simply sad.

On the other hand, I wonder if our students are thinking about politics at all.  It’s hard to know sometimes given the world of self-absorbed teenagers.  Finding moments for a relevant conversation means finding a time when they are not either wrapped up in school work (we know the world of IB students) OR simply plugged into their headphones or social media.  It’s not easy to find times for High School students to look beyond their immediate worlds and this is a challenge for us as educators.  Having said this, I well remember the enthusiasm of my middle school students in 2008 when Obama was elected president.  They were glued to the process during the weeks before the election.

I want students to read about Trump and consider his statements. I want them to be informed.  I want them to react and pay attention to the process.  I want our students in our international schools who live a steady diet of tolerance, service, internationalism, acceptance, and supportive relationships in hopeful school cultures to analyse and understand how/why this incredible turn of political culture in United States politics.

As educators, we should exploit the current political dynamics in the United States.  Our students and schools should embrace the regular commentary, understand the roots of discontent, oppose ethnically charged anger, and recognize the tremendous challenges facing the world.  Most importantly, we should take stock that there are solutions and citizens, organizations, politicians actively working to bridge solutions.  Ultimately, I want students excited by the political process.  We need students as activists, who are ready for action.  We need students engaged for the future.  And, we need students who recognize and speak out against bullying where we see it.