Teaching History in the Age of Trump


Jonathan Gold

How will the Donald Trump presidency affect how history teachers teach the past this Fall. Believe it or not, Trump came up on the first day of my American Revolution class on Tuesday as we talked about the historically-charged campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” and whether or not we should try to square Trump’s vision for America to the vision of the founders.

Jonathan Gold teaches seventh and eight grade history at Moses Brown School, a Quaker school in Providence, Rhode Island.  (He is also a read of The Way of Improvement Leads Home!).  In a very interesting piece at Medium titled “Teaching the 2016 Election with Integrity,” Gold reflects on how this election will and will not influence what happens in his classroom.

Here is a taste:

...while I am always careful about how and when to show my biases, I’m not worried about appearing biased if my stance is against bigotry and in defense of moral reason and the scholarly use of evidence, logic, and research. Just as the notions of media neutrality collapse under threats to democracy, so too do notions of teacher neutrality. We can’t be silent. And I’m confident we won’t be.

What I’m saying is that I think this fall offers great potential for reinvigorating the work we do in our classrooms. I am actually excited to have such a broken, poisoned climate to teach in and about this fall. Maybe the invigorated electorate will spur newfound student interest in the political system, in its history, its development, and its problems. Maybe when we read primary sources, students will understand Washington’s ambivalence about political parties, Frederick Douglass’s interrogation of the myths of American freedom, or the Seneca Falls Declaration’s revelation of the gap between America’s stated values and the realities of its past and present. Maybe when we study the international community’s failure to intervene in Rwanda or the development of the modern Middle East, they’ll understand why questions about the kind of country we are, the kind of country we claim to be, and the kind of country we want to be are so important. And maybe when we question established narratives, compare contradictory accounts, and practice thinking morally about the past, they’ll start to see what we hope they’ll see when they think critically and develop their moral compasses. Maybe they’ll get why studying history matters.

Truly, if our republic is as imperiled as it seems, the next generations of voters, leaders, activists, and politicians — our students — need to be taught how to take care of it. They need to learn to look out for one another, to promote justice and equality, and to debate and argue with rigor. And, with the current system failing to model those norms, we teachers have the experience and expertise to help them see the world how it really is so that they can learn how to make it a better place. It’s never been more necessary.

Read the entire piece here.