U.S. History Students Tackle Donald Trump


Not literally, of course.  If that happened it may have looked something like this. 🙂

Over at History on the Bridge, the blog of the Messiah College History Department, my colleague Jim LaGrand writes about how he and his co-teacher Cathay Snyder handled Donald Trump’s election in his U.S. History Survey class.

Here is a taste:

On the one hand, we were wary of trying to do too much. This was current events, not history. Sure, journalism has been called “the first draft of history,” but this was quite a first draft to deal with, and on short notice. Then there was the potential for discord and disruption in a potentially tense, polarized environment.

But we quickly decided that it was worth addressing Trump’s election somehow in our class. We hadn’t shied away from intellectual and ideological differences to that point. We’d had our students debate for and against the New Deal of the 1930s. Later in the course, they debated whether either King or Malcolm X was the best guide forward for African Americans in the 1960s. So our students were accustomed to open, lively discussions.

We also decided to address the election because throughout the course we had emphasized the constructed nature of history. In some ways, this seemed a perfect case study for interested students to think hard (albeit in a speculative fashion) about how the dramatic events of the present might eventually be understood, framed, and interpreted. Already, we had given students our customary assignment for the last day of class–Write a paragraph on an event, theme, or trend in the very recent past that will likely appear in future editions of U.S. history textbooks, and explain how it will be viewed, interpreted, and framed.

We also hoped to continue the open, forth-right intellectual environment of the class even in looking at this remarkable, contentious event. Our approach was different than that pursued in some other classrooms across the country. We did not tell our students (either explicitly or implicitly): “Be scared.” “Be inspired.” “Be outraged.” “Be vindicated.” Instead, our message was: “Be curious.”

And so we added a third possible option for our students’ short paper due at the end of the semester. Some chose to write on one of the two initial prompts: the experiences of American Indian children at Carlisle Indian School or Japanese-American internment during World War II. But others responded to our new prompt: “Where did the Trump phenomenon come from? Choose one development in U.S. history since 1865 that seems to you particularly helpful in trying to make sense of the recent rise of Trump, and explain how you see the linkage.”

Read the rest, including links to the student papers, here.